Strange Reflections a new serial on Patreon

 

Strange Reflections Cover

I just launched a new serial story on my Patreon page.  For those of you who don’t know already, some of my stories are either exclusive to Patreon or early access for Patreon Subscribers.

My new serial, titled Strange Reflections, departs a bit from science fiction and delves into a world of horror and mystery.

A short blurb:

A reoccurring nightmare, a library full of occult books, and a strange underground passage, for Amanda it’s only the beginning.

Check out my Patreon Page where you can find this story and one other from the world of the Chronicles of the Great Migration! 

First Two Chapters of Upon Stilted Cities

I have had the Prologue of Upon Stilted Cities up here on this website for ages. So, I thought perhaps I would post that and an additional chapter up here. You can find the prologue and chapter 1 below. Over the next few weeks, I will post several more chapters in preparation for our release date for Upon Stilted Cities: Part 1 the Winds of Change.

Here is a Synopsis of Upon Stilted Cities: The Winds of Change

The Children of Gaia won’t stop until every last walking city is destroyed…

The city of Langeles is rubble, resources are dwindling, and storm systems are larger than ever before. The people of Manhasten are in great danger, and they don’t even know it yet.

Life in the city hasn’t changed much in the forty years since Mimi joined her telepathic sisters of The Order of the Eye, but the winds of change are blowing, and their enemy, the Children of Gaia wait in the shadows to turn the city to ash. At the center of it all is one man, a man as ancient as the city of Manhasten itself, a man designated Runner 17. A man who is more then he knows, and maybe the only one who can save the city and the rest of humanity.

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Here is the Prologue

To Destroy A Walking City (I)

 

1.

The city had toppled. Bits of skyscrapers were strewn across the desert. With the city’s legs destroyed, it had collapsed from towering heights. Most of what remained upon the excavated chunk of earth on which the city had stood were smoking ruins, shattered mechanized EnViro suits, and sun-dried corpses. Welts from bombs, bullets, and energy weapons pockmarked the perimeter, as various vapors cascaded into the late afternoon sky.

Inside the ruin, occasional echoes of weapon-fire permeated the stillness in and between the few remaining buildings, but even that would fade with the day.

Far back from the fresh ruin of the city of Langeles, Roderick sat slumped against a rock. He was alone in the barrens. His body ached from laying inside his metallic suit for what was probably several hours. The air was a cool forty-eight degrees Celsius as the sun began its final descent. Perhaps an hour of light remained before the cold night air set in.

Roderick blinked. It was a glorious sunset. Even as seen through the tinted UV protection of his suit’s helmet, it was a ritual of beauty, a day that ended in victory. The power core within Langeles still remained, but the death knell of the city was ringing. Langeles would never walk again. For a city with no shield and no migration, there was only death. Mother Gaia would swallow it whole.

He pressed a small button under his chin and with his left hand pulled off his helmet. Its thick inner liner tugged at his graying hair as the helmet detached. He dropped it to the ground. It thudded against the gravel, rolling for a moment before settling in.

He closed his eyes and caressed the tattoo on his neck, the mark of his order, a tree of life with an eye in the center. He liked to feel the raised skin, the scars that had formed under the ink and burn scars. Most adherents of the Children of Gaia chose a simple armband or an inscription on their EnViro suit exterior, but for Roderick, only the mix of blood and fire and ink could mark his tribute and his loyalty. He was hers.

He felt the fresh air on his face and took a deep breath, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be able to keep his helmet off for long. The methane would trickle into his lungs with each breath. Fresh air, as rotten as it smelled, was a luxury. But, it had been a long day, and a little non-filtered air wouldn’t kill him. At least, it wasn’t anything that an alcove couldn’t heal.

He reached up to wipe the sweat from his brow. Already, beads of moisture gathered in the crevices of his pockmarked face and shimmered in the dying light. His light brown eyes reflected the play of colors on the hard, rocky earth and the swiftly changing sky.

Pain sprang up his right arm like a horse bucking its mount, and his square features tightened as he gritted his teeth. Roderick looked down the length of his right arm and remembered. He shuddered. Truth had a funny way of reminding you where you stand. It would take a long time to get used to a missing limb. The bloody stump of where his right hand been was now a symbol of his haste. He turned and gazed at the wreckage of his Dugger vehicle behind him. The City and the Dugger had shared the same fate.

With great pain, he poked the damaged arm out through the metallic hole of the suit where his armored glove had been. He had managed to tie the pliable, cloth-like underlayer in a knot to slow any leak of his air. He used his teeth as a second hand. After several frustrating moments, the knot came loose. He unwrapped the gauze and examined the wound. It was already stinking. He was fortunate that his suit had maintained his temperature and filtered air as well as it had. He would need to cauterize the wound, and quickly. If the toxins from the air entered his blood… well, he had better not let it come to that.

Silence slid into his ears. All noise evaporated. A high-pitched ringing emerged in the vacancy. Fresh fire burst forth from the remains of Langeles. Even from twenty-six kilometers out, he had temporarily lost his hearing. Roderick shielded his eyes from the blinding white light that erupted from the city like a second sun. No, not like a second sun, it was a second sun. For a brief moment, it was a star, a universe, created by the rupture of fusion and then winked out. His fingers pawed a solitary rock with his left hand for balance, feeling his feet giving way. His legs were so tired.

It was the Langeles power core.  Dense smoke seeped into the sky. A hint of a mushroom cloud emerged but was already caught by gusting winds and dissipated across the landscape, intermingling with the colors of the setting sun.

His men had reached it. Where he had failed, they had succeeded. Praise Gaia.

He stared at the city with anticipation. Where was the blast wave? Detonating a nuke inside the city core should have sent a cascading wave of energy. He should need to duck behind a ridge or be hunkering down inside a small cave, but nothing happened. Perhaps they didn’t use the nuke? Had his men managed to overload the core, containing the implosion? He would have to ask them.

It made no difference. Joy washed over him. Roderick let out of a roar of triumph. His roar caught on to the back of the lingering roar of the explosion and merged into forever.

He fell to his knees and bowed forward. Dry lips met the hardpan. His right stump grazed the ground, and a shock of pain climbed the length of his arm. He gritted his teeth but did not move from his position of reverence.

“Praise to you, Mother. Thank you for your aid in this great victory. I shall not forget the lesson you taught me this day. I shall not act in haste again. It is an honor to sacrifice in your name. May the blood that I shed bring new life in the soil.”

He pushed his right leg forward and used his left hand to thrust himself upward. Roderick stared at his bloody stump, still feeling where his fingers had been. Despite the immense pain of the open wound, his fingers itched; an itch he could never scratch again.

Roderick smiled, turning his attention back to the fallen city. The burning city roused his courage, his determination. There, in the smoking ruin, was the evidence it was possible to rid the earth of its infestation. The giant walking city of Langeles and its people were no more.

But what of his haste? What of his disregard for Mother Gaia’s words? Much had gone right, but what had gone wrong? Roderick reviewed the events of the morning assault.

 

 

Migration halted so that the excavation could begin. A massive drill protruded from the lower hunk of rock underneath the city and was burrowing into the earth. Clouds of dust cascaded into the empty sky. A cycle.

“Commander, the Duggers are submerged, in position, and await your orders,” said Patrick Lions. His face appeared before Roderick on his view screen. Patrick was a short, round, balding man who barely fit inside of a standard EnViro suit. With his helmet off, Roderick could see his rosy red cheeks and his crooked nose, broken from one too many fights.

“Excellent. What’s the status on the special delivery?” asked Roderick.

“The package has been delivered to the city’s AI Commander. Rocky said the primary shield should fail any time now. One thing, though, he also said the secondary shield is an isolated system. It’s unlikely the virus will deactivate it.”

“Yes, Rocky warned me earlier. But, there will be chaos, and that is all we need. What’s the status on city leg security?”

“One moment, Commander, I’ll check.”

Roderick squirmed in the semi-cramped quarters of the Dugger. He disliked being below ground in the Dugger transports. Duggers were designed for the conditions in severe climate change during the late 21st century, and were usually effective means of transport in the barrens. They had a small drill and two claw-like arms on the front of the vehicle that dug below shallow surfaces. Roderick had hated using them at first, piercing the earth had seemed like an act of great sacrilege, but Mother Gaia herself had given them permission to use the vehicles in her name.

“Commander,” said Patrick, “leg security has been deactivated. Should we send in Miss and her team?”

“No, stick to the plan. Shields fall first, then we send in the main attacking force, and then we send Miss and her teams to plant the nukes. If we deviate from the plan, it will be like Saud. You remember Saud, don’t you, Patrick?”

“Yes, Commander.” Patrick’s voice was notably lower in pitch and his eyes cast downward.

“It took 80 years to rebuild the Order after Saud, Patrick. Have faith in the Great Mother. She has blessed this plan. Langeles will fall before the sun sets.”

“Has she…” Patrick hesitated over the comm line. He knew that Patrick’s faith in Gaia had wavered as of late. Many of his soldiers’ faith had wavered. Inaction was a plague that could spread quickly, and six years of planning was a long time.

“Has Mother spoken with you about this plan, Commander? I… I only ask out of curiosity, of course.” Patrick’s voice contained a hint of a tremor.

Roderick smiled, showing his ancient, yellowed teeth. “Of course, Patrick. It was the Great Mother who devised this plan. She gave me a powerful vision that showed me the city of Langeles on fire. She whispered that other cities would come for salvage after the fire. And then,” excitement washed over Roderick’s anticipation, “then, we will destroy them as well. Mother Gaia has brought us Rocky and Miss so we could carry out the plan. Have faith, Patrick. We cannot lose this day. Today is the first of many victories.”

It was true that the plan had come to him in a vision that the mother had spoken to him. The timing of Miss and Rocky joining the cause was perfect, but even Roderick’s faith had been tested at Saud. They needed a victory to restore the faith of his people.

“The primary shield is down, Commander,” said Patrick.

“AI, confirm?” said Roderick.

“Sir, I confirm the primary shield system surrounding Langeles has fallen. Secondary shields surrounding their security buildings and storm shelters are active.”

“Excellent. There will be riots inside the city over access to those shelters,” said Roderick. “You see, Patrick? Mother’s plan will sew chaos inside the city while we destroy the legs. Send in the primary attacking force.”

“All of them, sir?”

“Yes, all of them, including your elite team. I want to keep their Runnercore busy.”

Seven hundred men were in the main attacking force, and only three dozen were on leg detail. Roderick’s personal guard consisted of only twenty-three men and women. He would hold his force until the nukes detonated, shattering the great legs. Then he and his personal guard would head straight for the city’s core, ending the long life of the parasitic walking cities.

“Yes, Commander. May Gaia bless your path,” said Patrick.

“And may Gaia bless yours. I’ll see you on the other side. Keep the mother in your heart and we cannot fail.”

Roderick watched his screen in the Dugger. He watched as the several dozen transport vehicles began moving toward the city. Most of them surfaced and crept along on treaded tires, but a few were still moving under the sand and hard earth. The ones under the ground would travel below the combatants and flank the Langeles Runnercore from behind.

They were greatly outnumbered. From what his spy had said, Langeles had 2,300 Runners ready for combat. Roderick only had 1,300 under his command, and several hundred were women and children back at Atlantis base. The fallen shield and surprise would give them a sizable advantage. Runners would have to be dispatched inside the city to maintain order.

The EnViro shield surrounding the walking cities weren’t just for defense in combat. The shield was also used to create an enclosed ecosystem. Without the shield, most of the cities inhabitants would be slowly poisoned by the toxic air and cooked in the extraordinary heat. Secondary shields were set up around important buildings in the event that the primary shield failed, but with two million people in the city and only room for about a hundred thousand in the secondary shielding shelters, there would be chaos.  Langeles’s own citizens were weaponized in the Mother’s cause; every man, woman, and child an agent of chaos, an inadvertent soldier in the army of the Children of Gaia. They were to be offered up in sacrifice to the Great Mother.

The radar screen saw the dots consolidating about a kilometer outside the city’s boundary. Over the comm came Patrick’s voice: “Duggers, mount artillery and fire. Infantry, dismount and engage. Be ready. Here they come.”

Underneath the soil, Roderick felt the ground vibrate. Langeles had opened fire, with its railguns blasting huge holes in the rocky desert. But, with the shield gone, Roderick knew their ability to use the rail guns would be limited. The guns ran off the same power grid as the main shield system. Naturally, after a few shots, the guns would stop, and the majority of Langeles Runnercore would be deployed in the city’s defense. Fresh blips on the radar screen were appearing. Roderick knew those must be the Langeles Runners.

“AI, status check on our cargo?”

“Sir, all three atomic weapons are stable and ready for deployment.”

“Excellent. Open a line to Miss.”

Miss appeared on the screen. Her short black hair was ragged and unkempt. She had a lean face that contrasted with her thick, cracked lips. A faint crosshatch of scars ran up the left side of her neck and ended just below her ear. Her time in the barrens had taken their toll, but there was still beauty to be found. Her brown eyes glittered with an inner fire that Roderick had always desired. His second in command stared back through the communications line, awaiting instructions.

“It’s time, Miss. Uncouple the cargo cars and take down the legs. The main force and the fallen shield will keep Langeles security distracted.”

“Yes, Commander. May Gaia bless your path.”

“And yours, Miss.”

Roderick felt a jolt as the cargo car he had taxied uncoupled from his Dugger. He felt lighter, more eager than before. His plan was unfolding perfectly so far. Now he had to wait.

Time passed. Roderick grew agitated. For all his planning, he hated to sit back and wait while the rest of his troops fought. He had spent most of his life as a man of action, as the one on the front lines. It was bizarre to sit back and watch. So much could go wrong, but Gaia had instructed that he wait.

Roderick waited as the 8th and 9th nukes were attached to the city’s legs. A few more to go and then he would pull his troops back.

Then something went wrong.

Over the comm came Miss’s voice, the signal fragmented. “Commander… spotted us. Seven men… Confirmed that the…. 10th… leg. Should… detonate?

“Repeat that Miss, I didn’t catch all of it.”

“Signal… Under attack… Legs… Retreat…”

“No! Don’t retreat. Finish the mission and then get out of there.”

“Ten… pla… treating… distance. Gaia…”

The signal evaporated. “AI, what’s happening out there.”

“It appears that the Langeles Runnercore has discovered the leg team. Most of the team is dead. However, based on radiation scans, it looks like at least ten of the legs have a tactical nuclear weapon attached to them.”

“And Miss?”

“Her life signs are still strong. It appears she is back in her vehicle and moving away at high speed.”

“Then start the detonation clock. Let the Core team know we’re moving as soon as the blast wave is clear.”

“For detonation, a confirmation code is required.”

“Of course. V638927SI.”

“Thank you, Sir. How long would you like the countdown to run?”

“How long will it take for the main force to get a safe distance from the blast zone?”

“If they left immediately and put the Duggers at full speed, they could be clear in six minutes.”

“Alert Patrick and the main force to disengage immediately.”

“Unfortunately, Sir, Patrick Lions no longer has any vital signs.”

Roderick grunted. That was quite a blow. He liked Patrick. How many decades had they fought alongside one another? Patrick had saved his life at Saud.

Roderick sighed. “Fine, just alert the remainder of the main force. Set the countdown for fifteen minutes. Alert everyone at two-minute intervals. Any longer than that and we risk giving Langeles time to disarm some of the bombs.”

“Acknowledged, Sir. Countdown to detonation is now at fifteen minutes.”

It was a long fifteen minutes. Roderick passed the time watching the radar of his troops departing to a safe distance from the estimated blast zone. He watched nervously as more of the Langeles Runnercore seemed to be gathering around the legs. If they figured out what was happening… but Roderick knew it was too late, only six minutes remained in the countdown now, and there was no way they could disarm the weapons in time. Miss had planted the nukes at the upper third of the legs, only someone with her special skills could have easy access to them.

“Four minutes remaining until detonation.”

This was it. Roderick could feel a kind of giddiness pass over him. It had been a few hundred years since he felt so excited. The city would fall, their plan would work.

“Patience, Roderick,” said a powerful and soothing voice.

“Mother Gaia?”

The voice was outside him but coming through him.

“Yes, Roderick. You must have patience. Do not act out of haste now or there will be a heavy price to pay.”

“Yes, my Goddess, of course. Forgive me. I am unable to prostrate to you in this vehicle.”

There was no response.

“Mother Gaia?”

Still no answer.

“Two minutes remain until detonation,” said the AI.

What did Mother Gaia mean by “patience”? Did it mean that he would have to wait to assault the core? Did it mean that he should cancel the detonation?

“Sixty seconds remaining until detonation.”

A wave of panic washed over Roderick. He quickly reviewed the morning’s events. Had he overlooked anything? The AI began to count down the final thirty seconds. He smashed his fist into the steering wheel, and his anger burst forth at the same moment the bombs on the legs detonated.

Roderick watched over his view screen as the distant blast drowned out all vision with a great blinding light. He wondered if all of his men had remembered not to look directly into that light. Through his periscope camera it was fine, but he doubted the EnViro suit helmets would shield them from blindness. A mighty roaring noise pressed itself against the ground and waves of sand and rock shifted above the Dugger. Thunderous fury.

In the view screen, Roderick saw the city kneeling down toward the earth, like a man kneeling beside the dying body of a brother in arms. The west end sunk first, smashing into the hardpan of the barrens. Some skyscrapers broke in half and pieces scattered as they cascaded toward the ground. Tremors for each mass of concrete could be felt, even at this distance, when they returned to the earth from which they had risen. Then, finally, the rock slab of earth on which the city rested slanted up toward the sky, amongst the sand and gravel, and came to its final rest. A marker, a gravestone, a well-deserved end.

Roderick’s rage and frustration were forgotten, as were the words of the mother. Roderick’s cheeks pulled upward. A smile bloomed on his face. Red cheeks, like red roses, surrounded a sharp, toothy grin.

Roderick opened a comm line. “The Great Mother has brought us to the brink of victory my brothers, but we must not tarry. Main force, resume your attack, mop up what’s left of the Langeles Runners. Core team, you are with me. CHARGE!”

The vehicle vibrated violently, and the sand on top of the clear glass cockpit began to move and shake. As the vehicle moved up above the surface of the ground, Roderick’s view cleared. The vehicle lurched forward, its large, treaded, tank-like tires gripped like teeth in the earth.

The Dugger gained speed and began moving more quickly toward Roderick’s final destination. He felt his heart beginning to pound. He was almost there. The outline of the city grew larger with every passing second, and in only a few minutes he would be on the outskirts of fallen Langeles.

A proximity alert flashed in the vehicle view screen, and the AI spoke. “Warning, incoming projectile. Five seconds until impact.”

Roderick looked down at his radar. He saw the red blip approaching the vehicle. He grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it left to avoid a direct hit, but it was too late.

The RPG struck the ground just below the Dugger’s left rear tire and sent Roderick spinning through the air, rotating like a corkscrew. The vehicle connected to the ground in a series of long hops, and Roderick felt his right hand catch in the steering wheel. The sounds of tearing metal screamed through the air as the vehicle slid and came to a wrenching halt.

Silence hovered. Only the wind dared to raise its voice. Tiny dust devils formed and spun and caught some of the smoke that gradually began to rise from the Dugger. Behind, the city of Langeles had caught fire.

A cacophony of noise returned and Roderick, dazed from what was probably a concussion, pulled the emergency cockpit hatch release with his left hand. He reached up with his right hand to pull himself up and out of the cockpit, only to realize his hand wasn’t there. Confused, he looked down the length of his arm. A mangled stump of flesh, shredded muscle and bone were oozing blood down the exterior of his EnViro suit. All Roderick could do was stare. No pain came to him, only shock and surprise.

Where had his hand gone? Scanning the cockpit, he saw a metallic gauntlet still gripping the steering wheel. Bone and blood dripped at the end of the gauntlet. Roderick looked at his stump, then at the steering wheel, then back to his stump again. It felt unreal.

It was the wrong hand. It had to be. It looked so small and frail. How could it be his? He glanced around another time but, seeing nothing, he refocused his gaze on the steering wheel.

Roderick stretched out his left arm and reached for the gauntlet. In his denial, he had thought it a simple matter to plug the hand back into the arm, like a robot or a child’s toy. His left hand wrapped around the gauntlet, the first instinct simply to pull the gauntlet from the steering wheel. It would not release. Then, he tried to pry one finger at a time off the wheel. No luck. He had heard of a death grip before but… he started to chuckle to himself but the laughter caught in his throat. He almost choked on it. He cleared his throat and let a sliver of madness drive a fresh wave of laughter, and for a moment the sight of his ruined hand was a source of great humor.

The laughter died as suddenly as it had come. Roderick turned his head out toward the burning city. There he saw someone standing only a stone’s throw away from him. It was a Runner, fully armed and in a combat-ready EnViro suit. He had a high caliber pistol aimed at Roderick’s face.

If Roderick had looked up only a single second later, it would have been the end of him. Without thinking, he threw the rest of his body out of the vehicle and rolled behind a solitary rock as the Runner opened fire. A few bullets sprayed the terrain. One of the Runner’s bullets ricocheted off the metal of the Dugger and smacked into the Runner’s shin armor. The impact forced him to fall to one knee. Roderick, seeing his chance, jumped up and reached down for his sidearm in his suit. His bloody stump mashed against the holster and Roderick screamed in pain.

The scream further stunned the Runner. He dropped his weapon, falling backward onto his ass. Roderick reached across his body with his left hand. He struggled, grasping at the butt of the revolver from the awkward angle, and finally pulled his revolver from his holster. He aimed and fired clumsily until the clip was empty. One of the bullets struck home. A single hole opened in the Runner’s face shield, and behind it, blood splattered, and the Runner rolled to his side, dead. His metal armor at rest, not unlike the city from whence he came.

Roderick sat and slumped against the rock.

“AI?”

“Yes, Sir?”

“Are there any more surprises out here for me?”

“No, Sir. I do not detect any more Runners in the immediate vicinity.”

“How…” Roderick was starting to feel weak and tired. Blood dripped into his eyes from a small gash on his head. “How… are we doing… out there?”

“My apologies, Sir, your inquiry must be more specific.”

“Progress of… my… troops?” His breathing was slowing down and the lids of his eyes felt heavy. The head wound and the lost of blood from his arm were both a threat.

“Sir, the Core team has penetrated the perimeter and the main force appears to be overwhelming the remains of the Langeles Runnercore. I calculate that you have an 87% chance of victory at this point.”

“Good, good… How many dead?”

“Exact figures at this time are difficult to calculate because of various reports of your troops and some conflicting data from the Langeles AI that I have intercepted. However, I calculate the total death toll at 1,752,892.”

Roderick felt a pang of frustration. “No, ours. How many of ours are…”

“Ah, I see. According to my sensors, there are 289 casualties,”

Roderick struggled to make a quick tourniquet by tearing off some of the linings of the passenger seat. He pulled some gauze from the glove box and wrapped it on the end of the wound. With his teeth, he pulled the material as tight as he could. Then he pulled up the lining of his suit and tied it and wedged it in the hole where the gauntlet had been, in hopes to keep the suit sealed.

Muttering more to himself than to the AI, Roderick asked, “Why was that Runner… out here?”

The AI responded, “Standard drill deployment procedure requires that a city deploys four perimeter Runners in each of the cardinal directions. Runners are instructed to set up sensor beacons and report anything unusual.”

“Why… didn’t he see us… earlier?”

“My apologies sir, I do not know.”

“Haste… Mother… sorry for my…” Roderick coughed. The remainder of his words caught in his throat. He closed his eyes.

 

Roderick opened his eyes back in the present. He stood and turned, moving toward the wrecked Dugger. He pried open one of the cargo hatches and began to rummage through the medical supplies. He would have to review the morning events again later, but for now, he needed to tend to his arm. It took him a moment, but he found what he was looking for, an emergency flare, an antibiotic shot, some morphine, and an EnViro suit sealant patch. It was a damn shame he didn’t have a regen patch in the Dugger–they had them back at Atlantis base–but the flare would have to do.

He dropped the sealant patch on the ground. He lifted the morphine syringe case up to his mouth and used both his teeth and his left hand to open the case. He grabbed the syringe out with his mouth and used his left hand to pull up the armored sleeve on his right arm. He injected it a few inches above the messy stump. It hurt, but the pain was minimal in comparison to the exposed nerves.

“All right. AI?”

“Yes, Sir?”

“If I pass out, I need you to wake me immediately. Don’t let me fall asleep.”

“As you wish, Sir.”

The morphine acted fast. It didn’t block out the pain entirely, but it was much more manageable. Roderick winced in advance. He knew what was coming next.

He pressed the trigger on the flare. The short flames sputtered and licked the sky at various heights. Sparks flew. He braced himself as he brought his left hand toward his right arm.

Roderick thrust the blue flame onto his stump and screamed, a scream that carried across the kilometers. A war cry of pain and victory. Roderick felt his body’s desire to lose consciousness; he fought it. A few more seconds and the wound would close, for now.

Those last seconds were an eternity. He could bear it no longer. He turned off the torch. He injected antibiotics directly into the wound. Grimacing again at the pain, he withdrew his stump from the open spot in his suit. He picked up the sealant patch off the ground and placed it on the edge of the tear. He watched the sealant patch come to life and spread itself over the tears in his suit where his hand had once been. The pain eased. By morning, the wound would be well-scabbed. Though pain would be a long companion, the danger of infection was over, or at least long enough for Roderick to find an alcove.

Roderick considered laying down in the back of the wrecked Dugger for a moment, then thought better of it. He had to be visible, had to contact his men. It was either that, or he had to find shelter before daybreak.

Roderick reviewed the day again and again, through the mirage of morphine. He knew it was unfortunate that Rocky’s virus required the city’s security codes to work properly. The Langeles codes had not been easy to obtain. Eleven cities remained, and Roderick could think of only one path to absolute victory, especially with a fifth of his force destroyed. Runner 17 was the key. If he wanted to destroy the rest of the cities, he would have to find him.

Here is Chapter 1

 

 

Chapter 1

Designation Runner 17

 

“Activating Runner, Designation 17.”

The AI’s voice, muffled by the warm, gelatin-like padding of the greenish goop that surrounded 17’s body, echoed in his every cell. The lights of the Runner storage facility switched on. Flickering like a stuttering heartbeat, it pulsed against his closed eyelids. He was awake. He did not open his eyes. Not yet.

A large claw slid under and around his alcove on the storage shelf. Pops and hisses marked a disconnection. Thrumming eardrums. The claw tightened. It lifted. It rotated.  With the slow guidance of the machinery, the storage container shifted from its flat horizontal position to an upright standing position on the dock floor. As it stood stationary, the clear plastic of the alcove slid open from the bottom up. An avalanche of the stem cell, fusion-based gel escaped with increasing speed as the opening widened until it was man-sized.

AI said, “Runner 17, step forward.”

He obeyed, keeping his eyes closed; knowing from centuries of experience what came next.

“Initiating cleaning sequence.” A metal arm with four shower heads descended from above, spraying water into every corner of 17’s naked body, washing away traces of the gel mixture from his dark skin.

Eyes opened.

“Initiating drying sequence.” The same arm that had bathed 17 with soapy water now blew hot air from its four adjustable nozzles. The warm air felt good on his skin, and he stretched and rotated his shoulders. He tilted his neck from side to side, wiggled his square jaw, and rubbed his dark brown eyes. Then, he reached back and wrung out his thick, long, black hair. He removed a hair tie from his middle finger and braided it.

“Runner 17, please proceed through exit tube 8c for your pre-run inspection. Failure to comply will result in disciplinary action,”

“What? No baby powder?”

“Baby powder is not part of the standard Runner activation procedure,”

“Yeah, well, it should be. Coming out of those damn alcoves is a little too much like being born. Next thing I know, you’ll shove a thermometer up my ass.”

AI hesitated for a moment. “Runner 17, please proceed through exit—”

“–or I’ll be disciplined. Got it. Can’t they install humor? I’m getting tired of the same old schtick. I want new material.”

“AI customization options are disabled in the Runnercore Activation procedures. For all complaints and concerns—”

“Alright, I will go through the damn tube. Jesus Christ.”

17 yawned and walked toward the long, tube-like corridor leading to the Runner Docks. He scratched the stubble on his long face. Behind him, several other alcoves in the storage area were coming to life. He glanced back to who the AI was unboxing.

“AI, why are you unboxing 875 and 913? You know they’re just going to get themselves recycled.”

AI repeated itself. “Runner 17, please proceed through exit tube 8c for your pre-run—”

17 shut tube 8c’s door behind him. He couldn’t stand the activation AI. It was so stiff. It was no way to wake up.

The briefing screen switched on and followed him down the length of the tube as he walked. He noticed the date, April 4th, 1291 AC, 6:30 p.m. He’d only missed a few months this time. Time was funny in there. The screen displayed his mission. He stopped and glanced at it.

“Basalt and Quartz, huh? Sounds like a real rollercoaster ride. AI, why is there a particular location marked here?”

“Sir, the coordinates are the most likely location of the two required resources.”

“Uh huh. And since when am I given coordinates for a resource recon?”

“As you know, sir, access to resources in the past few decades have become increasingly scarce. Major Daniels has decided that our best chance of resource extraction is to pinpoint specific locations that appear, at least by previous mineral surveys, to be resource-rich.”

“So Daniels is the one who made up that bullshit story? You know, I’ve been at this for more than a thousand years now. The only time you send me out at 6:30 p.m. is when there’s something much more important going on than resource recon. How ‘bout you tell me what’s really going on at that location?”

“I am sorry, sir, but the only thing, ‘going on at that location’,” the AI switched to an exact copy of his own voice to quote him, “is a rich vein of resources.”

“I’m sure. Can you tell Major Daniels that I know he is full of shit, please?”

“Sir, Major Daniels is not receiving messages at this time.”

“Then leave him a message and make sure you include a smiley face in it. I know how much he loves them.”

“As you wish, sir. Please proceed to Inspection.”

17 walked forward again toward the end of the long narrow tube without argument. He wasn’t in the mood for a shock in the base of his skull. Without being aware of what he was doing, he rubbed the place on the back of his neck where they had implanted the chip more than a thousand years before. He looked up at one of the security cameras. No doubt that Daniels or someone else from security was watching him. He raised his right hand and gave them the finger and then a salute.

17 reached the end of the tunnel, and like a thousand times before, an iris whooshed open. He stepped forward into the light, squinting while his eyes adjusted, pupils shrinking. He swished the little saliva in his mouth and spat out the remainder of the stem cell mixture from the alcove. A hint of the greenish mixture blotted and swelled on the metal floor. There was no getting rid of that chemical taste. He thought for a moment that maybe stealing a meal from a dock worker or inspector would be worth the pain of a shock. He longed for some mouthwash or a toothbrush. The pain he could handle, the grainy taste of goo in his mouth was far more intolerable.

Then the inspector walked toward him, tablet in hand. With a single glance, he forgot everything else. He swallowed hard. She was stunning. She raised her right hand, holding a small wireless scanner linked to her tablet, and checked his vitals. She waved it like a magic wand up and down, left and right, muttering to herself the technical jargon of the readout.

17 could feel his heart pounding in his chest as his breathing grew more rapid. Her long blonde hair almost shimmered in the brutal fluorescent light of the docks. Those lights made everyone look ugly, so the fact that she was still radiant caught 17’s attention. Her deep bluish-green eyes accented her bronzed skin. Her mouth had an almost natural upturn, and he traced the curvature of her tiny jaw with his eyes. He watched her lips as her mouth moved and felt his breath escaping him. For the first time in centuries, he felt butterflies in his stomach.

“Runner… 17? Wow, that’s the lowest number I’ve seen so far.” Her voice was light and curious.

17 focused. He shook his head. He couldn’t imagine their life together, or even just what it would be like to bed her. It would only serve to remind him that he was a prisoner.

“Ain’t no lower number now.” He tried to make his words sound hollow and dry.

“Sorry?” The young girl blinked at him.

“You’re new, aren’t you?”

“Is it obvious?” She frowned, her whole face flattened, but a smile hinted.

17 paused and looked her up and down again, this time making it obvious what he was doing. Her face flushed a little. He couldn’t help it. Chances were, he would only see her a few more times before she moved on. Inspectors always moved on. Hell, he may never see her again, but something in him resisted that idea, something in him said he might see a lot of this one. He pushed the thought away. It was nonsense.

“How many years do you have?”

She hesitated a moment. 17 knew inspectors weren’t really supposed to talk to Runners, but he wanted—no, needed–to chat with this one.
“I… only… 23 years.”

“23 years? Are you kidding? I didn’t even know they let anyone that young away from their parents anymore.” He hesitated a moment, deciding if he should ask the next question. It burst from his lips. “Uh, what’s your name?”

The girl, her eyes soft, looked around. Doubtless, she’d been lectured on fraternization with Runners, warned at great length how evil they were. 17 gave her a little smile, trying to encourage her, but that only seemed to make her more nervous. Was she nervous for the same reason he was?

“I’m not supposed to… I…”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. They told you the big bad Runners might hurt you if they find out who you are, might steal you in the night like the Boogeyman. Told you we are all dangerous criminals on a life sentence, right?”

The girl nodded. Her face was bright red. Her eyes kept sinking downward, admiring 17’s naked body, but she was trying to hide her curiosity.

She bit her lip.
He shivered.

“You know what my crime was?”

She shook her head.

“Do you want to know?”
She nodded.
“I pissed off the wrong woman, an Upper. Least that’s what they tell me, but hell if I can remember. Been too damn long. Everything bleeds together after a few centuries.”

“But I thought…” she hesitated again, looking around to see if anyone, probably her supervisor, was watching. She lowered her voice just above a whisper and moved closer. “I thought that to become a Runner you had to commit a violent crime?”

17 laughed. The girl jolted back, looking around again.
“You’re shitting me, right? Is that what they are teaching up in that… what do they call it these days? College? University?”

“Um… Scholar school… Sir.”

“And she gives me a Sir. Wow, I like you,” he chuckled.  “You know, it’s been at least a millennium since someone called me Sir? What’s your name again?”

The girl looked down at her feet and then met his eyes. Her soft eyes made his heart ache a little. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had looked at him that way; centuries, at least.

“Maybe we better just get on with the inspection,” she replied. She looked back over her shoulder again.
“Come on now, don’t be like that. I just woke up, and it’s been several months sitting in that alcove. Do you have any idea how lonely and boring it is in there? You know we don’t fully sleep in those things, right? It’s more like an acid trip or something.”

Her expression softened a little, and her left cheek slanted upwards just a hair. She hesitated, and the words almost seemed to leak from her soft lips. “It’s… Alexa.”

“Alexa, you don’t look like an Alexa, you look like a…” He stopped. No. She couldn’t possibly look like… He didn’t dare make that comparison. A deep sense of anguish welled up in him. His memory was trying to surface, but he pushed it back down. There was a sense of mockery and injustice in this girl’s presence. He tried to shake it off. Now he was starting to understand the effect she had on him.

“Uh… Never mind. Alexa it is, then. Tell me a little more about yourself, Alexa. Are you a Lower?”

Alexa shook her head. “Mid, actually.”

“A Mid? What the hell are you doing in Runner dock then?”

“I…” she hesitated, her eyes again dipping down 17’s well-scarred body. She looked up into his face again. “That’s none of your business.” She shifted her weight from one leg to another.

“Uh, you’re right, sorry. It just seems like a lovely young Mid like yourself wouldn’t bother with the big bad Runners down here in the docks. If you’re a Mid, I bet you got lots of opportunities and probably a lot of interested men too, huh?”

She frowned. “I’m not some object for a man to possess, you know. And my career choices are my own.” Now determined to focus on the task at hand, she fixed her gaze on her data tablet. He could tell that it was hard for her not to look back up at him. She peeped over the tablet, caught his eyes again and smiled. She forced the smile down and with it, her eyes. It made his heart flutter a little. He swallowed, thinking of his wife from many lifetimes past. Only the hair color was different.
“I’m sorry Alexa… I… this isn’t a good place to be.”

She looked up at him. Her eyes moved back and forth across his face and then her eyes locked with his. “I think…  I think I’m done with my inspection. You have to move along now, Runner 17. And…” Her face turned bright red, and she looked down at her feet. “And put some clothes on. None of the other Runners come out of their alcoves naked. Um, your EnViro suit is in station 9.” She pointed her finger in the direction of the EnViro suit platform.
“Alexa?” A man’s harsh voice rang out over the intercom. “Alexa, please return to your office immediately. You know the policy about speaking with Runners.”
She turned and ran off. He watched her go. She dropped her data tablet on her way back to the tiny office in the corner of the Runner Docks, but did not stop.

He frowned. It had been the first time in decades that someone besides the AI had spoken with him and he went and screwed it up. He shook his head. What did it matter anyway, not like a Runner could ever have a normal life. After he returned from the barrens, he was debriefed and then straight back into the regeneration alcoves until the next mission. He was lucky if they allowed him a real meal instead of that nutrition drip they ran through his EnViro suit.

There had been a few moments in his Runner career when he had tried to date the female Runners, but it proved impossible. The timing of re-activation never quite matched up. Sometimes months or years would pass between encounters. He found over the centuries that the best he could hope for was a quick fling, which also proved difficult out in the harsh conditions of the barrens. It was hard to get your pants down when they were under thick layers of metallic armor, but somehow, they managed. Caves were helpful in that regard.

17 turned toward station 9 and walked forward. He glanced back in the direction Alexa had gone and frowned. Then he moved forward and stepped into worn yellow outlines of feet. A machine both above and below made a guttural whirring noise, sputtered, and came to life. The platform on which 17 stood lifted several meters into the air. Cracks had begun to take shape in non-symmetrical patterns on the platform. The whole place crumbled from age.

From above and below the platform, large metallic hands with three fingers and an opposable thumb extended outward, each with its own task.

The arms dressed 17 in undergarments and then a thin, electronic, protective spandex-like coating that resembled a wetsuit and protected him from heat and cold. The boots enclosed his feet, granting him nearly a half meter more in height. Next, the arms pieced together an exoskeleton that tripled the user’s strength. Bone joints glistened, waiting for connections to metal plates. Around the exoskeleton, the mechanical arms assembled the exterior armor. It started at his shins, attaching one piece at a time, moving upwards. Each piece resembled the armor of a knight, but it was perfectly connected, perfectly sealed like that of an astronaut’s suit but much more flexible. For the final step, a helmet descended from above and enclosed the EnViro suit. Everything clicked on and came to life.

“EnViro suit activated. Welcome back, sir. It has been four months, three weeks, and four days since you were last in an EnViro suit,” said the suit AI. “I have taken the liberty of uploading your system preferences and the required mission data into this suit.”

“Good, I don’t suppose you can talk to someone about the Runner activation AI, can you?”

“Is there a problem with the activation system, sir?”

“Yeah, that system is an asshole.”

“I… apologize, sir, we may not customize—”

“I know, I know. It told me already. Tell me again, why can’t I just use your system for activation?”

“I am flattered, but my systems are based on the chip in the base of your neck and only works when in direct contact with an EnViro suit or another external uplink.”

17 sighed. “If you say so.”

“Are you ready to depart?”

“Yeah sure. Being out there in the Barrens is a hell of a lot better than in those damn alcoves.”

“I am sure I would agree if I had a body.”

The outer bay door opened. Before he stepped forward, he looked back. Was Alexa watching? He hoped he would see her again. He frowned and turned forward toward the lift.
As he descended toward his Dugger, 17 had his first glimpse of the Barrens in months. Dunes and rocky wastes filled his gaze. The wind changed the landscape right before his eyes. There was nothing but death and possibilities out there. He glanced in the corner of his heads-up display and noticed the wind was only 80 kph, a mild evening at least.
He missed trees. Even though they had some here in Central Park, he hadn’t seen one in centuries and wondered if there would ever be a day when he would see one again.

Before the end, he would see many.

 

 

Mimi of the Nowhere Cover Reveal

Today I am happy to present the official cover of my very first novel Mimi of the Nowhere. This book is the very first chapter in the Chronicles of the Great Migration. A series about life, death, and war in a Giant Walking Cities in a post-climate change era. Mimi of the Nowhere begins with the story of a Homeless woman living in the Giant Walking City of Manhasten, which was once, long ago the island of Manhattan.

A synopsis:

Life on the street is hard. Drug dealers, thieves, and even the security officers of the giant walking city of Manhatsten are up to no good. But somehow, Mimi’s done it for centuries. Of course, it helps that she is able to peek into other people’s minds and avoid trouble most of the time. Unfortunately, that same talent is about to get her into a whole other world of trouble. One that she never even knew existed.

The cover was created by the very talented Kayla Rose. You can find more of her work at her Instagram page here

Don’t forget you can read the first 6 chapters of the book free at the page for Mimi of the Nowhere

 

Front Cover

 

Want to read this book completely free? Sign Up for our Email Newsletter here and get access to this book for free beginning 5/17/18 as well as a number other great perks. 

 

 

Mimi of the Nowhere Chapter 5 and 6

InsideBeing homeless in dangerous at the best of times in the giant walking city of Manhatsten. In Chapter 5 Disruption and Chapter 6 Paradise Lost, we find Mimi and Shannon’s lives turned upside down and Mimi has an encounter with a world that she never knew existed.

Since Chapter 5 is on the shorter side, I decided to include Chapter 6 in this post as well. You can find the first four chapters on the main page for Mimi of the Nowhere

Mimi of the Nowhere is out 5/17/18 in Ebook and Paperback

Want to read the rest of this book completely free? Sign Up for our Email Newsletter and get access to this book for free beginning 5/17/18 as well as a number other great perks. 

Chapter 5

Disruption 

 

Mimi could count on one hand the times in her life that she had experienced so much joy.

Over the next few weeks, her days consisted of her and Shannon wandering around the underground of the city, scavenging things to make their home more comfortable. Mimi taught Shannon how to fish. They found new furniture and Shannon spent time decorating while Mimi prepared dinner. New color lined the walls, like the new love beating in their hearts. Their nights were filled with love-making, endless moments of intertwined bodies, giggles and whispers of love. Seas of smiles. Softness.

In the spaces between, they shared stories, shared history, and though Shannon had quickly run out, Mimi could speak for years without pause. After so much time, Mimi felt able to do so again. Her load lightened. Her heart unclenched, and peace was found in so many private corners and corridors in their subterranean space.
Little time was spent on ground level after Mimi had secured a new supplier of Likatol. It hadn’t been easy but after several days of searching, she found one they could afford.
The Nowhere became to feel like somewhere. Their somewhere.
There was one subject that Shannon was unable to wrestle loose from Mimi.

“Tell me about Daniel.”

Mimi froze. “I don’t know if I can yet, Shannon. It’s…just so hard to speak of.”

The two lovers laid naked and covered in a new bed, scavenged from above. Mimi was warm and safe, but still, it was difficult to speak of.

Shannon stared in Mimi’s eyes. Her smile now a likely permanent fixture. “It’s okay.” She reached up and caressed Mimi’s face. “I’m here when you feel ready. I just want you to know the door is open.”

Mimi kissed and then nuzzled Shannon. Her face was hot, and one or two tears leaked out. “Thank you. That means a lot.”

The room took on a red tinge. Mimi’s sense of security evaporated and Daniel’s eyes, the white on white on white of where his pupils used to be, became visible. The terror of that pale skin marked with blue lines filled her vision so completely that for a moment she thought she had become blind to all else.

“Mimi?”

Mimi heard Shannon’s voice, but it was distant. It echoed and mingled with the normal noises of the underground, the sound fading.

Mimi couldn’t move. Daniel’s form took shape; a tall figure surrounded by metal. The EnViro suit used to travel outside the city his only garments. The recycled Runners could never leave them. It was their enclosure. Mindless beasts needed an enclosure.

“Mimi, you’re scaring me. What’s wrong?”

A hug turned into a shake. Gentle at first, then jarring. Mimi’s head wobbled. She couldn’t move, but she felt her tongue flopping on the inside of her mouth with Shannon’s attempts to break the trance. She could hear Shannon in the distance, but all she could see was the form of the undead version of her former lover, colored with a red veil in her sight.

Shannon’s voice began to fade away into the distance. Mimi was traveling, and now, what was once Daniel seemed to take notice. She had thought it was just an image, just a memory, but it was more. She was seeing him in real time. It looked at her as if they were occupying the same space. Its white on white on white eyes pierced her. No pupils remained to contract. There was only a blank stare, and she was aware that its mouth was open and that its teeth were no longer human but something much sharper. Blue outlines of veins surrounded the upward tilt of the lips as they formed into a grin. A framed monstrosity.

It moved towards her. Slow steps.

Its hand raised.

Mimi still could not move.

It reached for her throat.

She shivered.

Fingertips brushed skin. A grip taking form.

Then, a sharp pain punctuated her cheek.

She reached up to touch it, to stroke the stinging and found herself still in bed with Shannon. Shannon was screaming her name, was shaking her, weeping and terrified. She drew her arm back to slap Mimi again, and Mimi blinked and put her arm up to stop the motion.

“Mimi? Are you okay? What’s happening?” Her voice rough.

Mimi said, “I don’t know.”

Shannon’s eyes widened. “Mimi…did you just…” She trailed off, her face panicked and puzzled.

“Did I just what?”

Shannon’s eyes widened again. “Mimi, you aren’t opening your mouth when you’re speaking.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

Shannon slipped out of bed and backed away. “Stop it, Mimi…I don’t like this.”

“Stop what?”

“Whatever it is you are doing.” Shannon began to clutch the sides of her head.

“What am I doing?” She looked down at her hands. Red.

Shannon was backed all the way against the clothed wall. “I think you are in my head. Please stop. Please get out of it. It hurts.”

Mimi looked around. She didn’t know what to say, what to think. She opened her mouth, but for a moment no words came out. The red tinge was still on everything in the room, it was faint, but it was there. She focused for a moment and imagined that the color wasn’t red, that it was blue. She didn’t know if that would work, had no idea what was happening, but she had to try something.
Shannon stopped holding her head and looked up at her; she still cowered in the corner, but her expression had changed a little. “There, like that, whatever you are doing, do more of that.”

Mimi did. She changed the blue to yellow and then lightened it. Then finally she imagined that there were no colors, that the light was clear.

Shannon relaxed visibly. “What just happened?”

“I don’t know, love. I really don’t. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”

Eyes full of worry, Shannon moved a little closer. Was there fear there too? Mimi thought there was. Shannon reached out for her hand.

“Were…were there any other times you lost control of your ability? I mean…after you started taking the Likatol to curb it?”

Mimi thought hard for a moment.

“Yes, there was at least one time, when we were at war with one of the other cities and people were upset.”

“What did you do then?”

Mimi thought about it. It had been at least three centuries, maybe four since it happened, but she remembered what it was like. She had thought her head would explode, that someone was taking a power drill and pushing it into her forehead. When one of the buildings had collapsed in the conflict, she heard the screams of those in the rubble pierce through her like an arrow. “I had to find something stronger than Likatol.”

“Like what?”

She thought for a moment, then remembered. “Benadixtrin, it was the only thing that would stop it.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a medicine for treating people with severe schizophrenia.”

“What’s schizophrenia?”

“It’s like when someone hears voices and sometimes they even have trouble understanding if those voices are real or not.”

“Like you?”

“No, not exactly, I know mine are real because I can see how people react, but…” Mimi gripped her temples; she was getting a headache. “But I thought it might help, that maybe somehow if it helped them, it would help me?”

“So why don’t you take that instead of Likatol?”

Mimi closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. She was finding it difficult to focus. “There were other side effects. It made me sick to my stomach and it was much more expensive. Likatol doesn’t have any side effects. I only ever needed Benadixtrin once and haven’t thought about it since.”

Shannon started to say something then stopped. She moved closer and put her arms around Mimi. “Love, do you think it might be helpful if I go get some for you? Maybe just in case something like this happens again?”

For a moment, Mimi peered into her mind. Shannon was scared of her. Mimi frowned.

“Okay. If that’s what you want. I’ll keep it around just in case it gets bad again. We can go tomorrow.”

“No, that’s okay. I can do it now.” A quick response.

Mimi looked up at Shannon. She didn’t need to skim her to see that Shannon needed some time away, that she needed some space to feel okay with what had just happened. In truth, Mimi needed a little space to clear her head. She had no idea what was happening to her, and maybe a little space would give her a chance to breathe and think about it.

“Alright. Terrance, the short guy on the corner of East 83rd and Madison just by Central Park, he probably has some. He’s a tame one too, not like the other dealers, but only usually carries medical-type stuff.”

“How much?”

“I don’t know, just take what we have left. We can run a few scams on some Mids next week and make up the difference.”

Shannon nodded. “How far is 83rd and Madison, you think?”

“It’s in District 6, so probably a few hours’ walk round trip if you don’t take the people mover. You up for that?”

Most of the time they could only get on the people mover for a handful of blocks before ticket checks got them thrown off. Shannon would probably have to walk most of the way at least.

“I think so.”

Shannon moved in close, hugged Mimi and kissed her forehead. “I’ll be back as quick as I can, love.”

Gratitude and relief rose to the surface of Shannon’s mind. She was thankful that Mimi didn’t argue about her going alone.

Shannon walked towards the flap, lifted it and disappeared behind the cloth. Her footsteps padded away quickly, nearly at a run.

Mimi frowned. That red tinge again? What was that all about? She thought about the afternoon where the workers’ minds went silent. Why was all this happening now? It didn’t make any sense. After centuries of using her abilities, why would something suddenly change?

Mimi stood and began cleaning up the room. Shannon was a slob. She wasn’t much better, but she didn’t like to leave too much food lying around. The roaches weren’t picky, she’d seen them occasionally, but mostly she had been able to keep them away from her hovel.

Gathering the fish bones, she moved through her cloth door. She walked over to where the uneaten remains of the fish laid and saw a few flies that were curiously probing one of the fish heads. She gathered them up and walked a few dozen paces to where there was a hatch in one of the pipes. She put down the scraps and began to turn the large metal wheel of the hatch. She heard the click of the lock and yanked hard on the door to open it. It squealed and something in Mimi’s mind translated that squeal to a scream. It occurred to her that Shannon might not be okay alone on the surface. That maybe she should have gone with her, even if she had made Shannon nervous earlier.

She reached down, picked up the scraps of food and then cast them into the tube that went into the biorecycler. She shut the hatch and again, the squeal made her stomach sink a little. There was a gentle pushing in her mind. Almost like a sense of urgency. Shannon hadn’t been gone ten minutes, and she felt a deep desire to check on her.

She went back into the hovel and tried to clean up, but the sensation of checking in on Shannon was growing. She felt instinctively that something was wrong, that she needed to follow immediately. But she denied it. Shannon was already scared enough and needed a moment to herself. Shannon was a big girl. Mimi had seen her talk her way out of trouble a number of times. Shannon was a resourceful woman, it was one of the reasons Mimi liked her.

Mimi sat down on the bed, swung her legs up and laid down. She started to close her eyes and relax. She tried to breathe deeply and let the tension of her muscles be taken by gravity.

The pressure in her mind grew. There was no red tinge this time. But this time the sense of urgency and panic grew in her so sharply that she sat bolt upright, feeling that it was suddenly difficult to breathe. She found herself standing. Found herself looking around for her makeshift spear.

Again, she stopped herself, trying to steady her emotions. Why was she feeling such anxiety?

Then, a voice spoke up. The voice was so clear and so crisp that Mimi was certain that someone was saying it loudly right in her ear.

“Dammit Mimi, forget the spear and just go after Shannon. Her life is in danger.”

Mimi’s blood ran cold. She didn’t know where the voice was coming from and at that moment she didn’t care. She did exactly as the voice instructed and before she knew it, she was sprinting toward the pipe that led to the exit.

 

The Story Continues with Chapter 6

 

Chapter 6

Paradise Lost

  

The stairs to the surface were agony. Shannon only had to go up and down them a handful of times now, but Mimi walked them as if they were nothing. It seemed to Shannon that Mimi always walked on air. How could a woman bearing such a heavy burden step so lightly?

She opened the door that led out into the surface-level streets. It was still a few hours from designated dark. The city never had darkness anymore, as the giant, glowing shield around it which was fueled largely by the energy of the sun was its own light source. At night, the city was awash in a kind of forever sunset. It was a twilight that twinkled and twirled as the massive legs of the city marched on.
The shield protected them all from the lethal daytime heat and the cold nights. The city, constantly on the move to avoid massive sandstorms, pockets of methane and near-apocalyptic storms on the coast, rumbled almost silently beneath her feet.
Shannon took up the streets. She began walking south toward her destination. It would be a long walk to make it there and back before designated dark, but her recent forays into the underground had built her stamina. Mimi never slowed down, and it was only in the last few days that Shannon finally felt comfortable keeping up.

She walked for several blocks, mind on the earlier events. Had Mimi used her mind to speak directly to her? It had felt strange at first, but then, it had started to hurt. She didn’t think that Mimi would ever hurt her intentionally, but if somehow she lost control, Shannon needed something to protect both herself and Mimi. If she could afford it, she would also buy some sort of tranquilizer for a serious emergency. She hadn’t decided if she was going to tell Mimi this or not yet, but seeing as Mimi was able to, as she called it, ‘skim her mind,’ she probably should just tell her.

“There you are.”

The voice of the man behind her was familiar. There was an unpleasant tone in the voice. Shivering, she turned slowly. There, standing only a few paces behind her, was Andrew. His face was pale and ragged. Andrew always looked on edge, but there was something more alarming about his demeanor. She couldn’t pinpoint it, but her heart made its presence known.

“What do you want Andrew?”

“You.”

Shannon blinked, “Me? What did I do? I’ve never spoken to you in my life.”

“I know, it’s a damn shame. You know how many conversations I’ve had with your lover? She never once took the time to introduce us, and we’ve been business partners for years.” His voice was smooth. It only just masked something sinister.

Shannon glanced around to look for a way out, trying not to make it obvious. If he wanted her, it wasn’t for anything good.

She measured her will and tried her best to sound calm, but her voice shook just a little. “Oh, it’s really okay, I’m not a social person.”

Andrew took two steps toward her.

“Oh, but I am. And see, it bothers me a little when I lose a client. I always try to make sure I keep them coming back. Your friend Mimi has been a big source of credits for me over the years, and, call me old-fashioned, but I have a hard time letting go.”

Shannon took a few steps back and realized quickly she was against a wall. “So what does this have to do with me?”

“Well, I’ve seen you two together and I thought, maybe, just maybe, if we sat down and had a chat, that Mimi would decide to resume her purchases, if you know what I mean.”

“Well, we’re chatting, what do you want me to tell her?” She hoped that all he wanted was a simple chat, but she doubted it. Men like Andrew always wanted more.

“Well, you know, I thought about that. I thought about the fact that Mimi’s a pretty tough little girl. I thought perhaps, that it was best if you come stay at my place for a while so she would be…a little more inclined to talk?”

“It’s not going to happen, Andrew.”

Shannon’s heart was racing faster now. She could hear it in her ears, feel it in her forehead. Blood rushing. Fingernails digging in palms.

“But see I think it is, because if you don’t come with me right now, well, let’s just say I have some connections in security.”

Shannon swallowed hard. Ice water filled her veins.

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way. Your choice, Shannon.”

Shannon tried to relax visibly. Tried to make it look as if she had resigned. “Alright, I will go with you on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“You keep your hands off me.”

“Baby, I’ll be a gentleman. You got my word.”

Shannon started walking, and he walked right alongside her.

“It’s not far. When we get there, we’ll send someone to find Mimi. I’m sure you’ll be out of there in a jiffy. And then you can go back to doing whatever it is you two get up to in the long hours of the night.” His grin showed a few extra teeth.

Shannon said nothing. She was watching, waiting for the right moment. She was a smart girl. She had survived on the streets long enough to know that the key to survival is to wait for the right moment to act. She just hoped there would be a right moment. Sometimes there wasn’t. Like most street kids, she learned long ago that sometimes there were no options.

Then they walked up East End Avenue. Her eyes traced the wall, only a few yards away, that ringed the edge of the world, the place where the city ended, and the wasteland began. The walls were only about ten feet high, just wide enough to support the shield, itself a semi-physical barrier made of light.
A small hedge grew a little higher than her waist along the road. It was a new thing, something someone had recently planted, but it lined the street. It was a way of trying to mask the wall, to make it less visible, to perhaps hide the view of their world.
Andrew was walking up against the hedge. Shannon glanced around. A thought occurred to her, an opportunity. She marshaled her courage and stopped. Andrew stopped in turn. The small of his back was just above the hedges.

“Why are you stopping, I said it’s not far.”

“I was just thinking about something.”

“What?” His eyes narrowed.

She tried to think of something to say, but nothing came. He cocked his head and chewed the side of his cheek.

“Come on, out with it.”

When she didn’t respond again, his face darkened. He made to grab her right forearm, but just as he did, she shoved as hard she could. Andrew fell back over the hedge and tumbled. Shannon didn’t stay to watch. She ran as fast as she could toward the lower level entrance that led to Mimi’s place.

Behind her, she heard angry shouting. She could make out none of it. Her legs pumped hard as she ran down along 79th past Orphan’s Ally. When she rounded the final corner that led to the underground access, she slammed right into someone. There was a shout and a muffled cry.

“What the hell are you doing, Lady?”

Shannon, who lay on the ground, saw an arm reach out to her. She took it, and a large man all clad in dark blue helped her up. She brushed herself off and looked up. Her heart sank.

He was security.

She swallowed hard.

Behind them, came a shout. “That’s her, Jerry. Hold her.” Jerry grabbed her. He was a huge brute of a man with a shaved head and thick black eyebrows. He was well over two meters tall and had a thick, flabby torso. Shannon tried to struggle, but it was no use.

Andrew caught up with them both and stopped. He was panting hard and leaned over, putting his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath.

“Little…bitch…shoved me…right in the damn bushes.”

Jerry let out a big hearty laugh. In other circumstances, it might have been a pleasant laugh, but not this one.

“Andrew,” he said in his deep, smooth voice, “you didn’t tell me how beautiful she was.”

“You think she’s beautiful, wait ‘til you get a look at her girlfriend. They’d both clean up nice.”

“Andrew, has anyone ever told you a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush?”

“No, what the hell does that mean.”

“It means, I think you should be happy with what you got here and forget the other one.”

“Now wait just a sec, that’s not the deal we had here.”

Jerry’s smile turned into a dark scowl. “The deal we have is entirely contingent on what I get out of it. A case of Likatol is nothing compared to the price this one will fetch in the Uppers. I bet you heard of that senator up there, the games she gets up to every night?”

“Reeves?”

“That’s the one. Rumor has it, the woman has quite the appetite. I’d be happy to split the proceeds with you, say seventy-thirty?”

For a moment, Shannon was sure that he would say yes and then it would be all over. She would be a plaything for the wealthy. She would never see Mimi again. Her whole world seemed to be crumbling beneath her.

Then Andrew’s expression changed. Shannon would swear that he almost seemed an entirely different person. His cheeks turned red. He pulled something out from his rear pocket. It made a loud click. Shannon looked down to see what it was. A switchblade gleamed in his right hand.

“I think you should take the case of Likatol, Jerry. She’s mine.”

Jerry let out another great, bellowing laugh. Shannon had to admit, the tiny blade didn’t look like much of a match for a man the size of Jerry. Jerry pushed Shannon to the ground with her hands behind her back. Her face smashed into the concrete and blood spurted from her nose. With tears forming in her eyes, Shannon turned her body and began trying to stand.

“Now you stay right there, little miss. Uncle Jerry’s gonna make sure that we get you to a safe place.” Jerry stood a little straighter and sucked in his gut. “Now Andrew, I am gonna give you one more chance to back down. Then, it’s off to the Runnercore with you. Is that what you want?”

There was a moment of hesitation in Andrew, and he took one small step back. His thin, wiry body looked like a toy compared to Jerry’s. But then, he took one small step forward again and widened his stance.

“You won’t be the first member of Security I’ve killed, Jerry. You don’t get to be in the drug trade as long as I have without drawing a little blood from time to time. I’ve taken down guys bigger and stronger than you. Besides, you aren’t allowed to kill me, but I can sure as hell kill you.”

Andrew reached into his pocket and popped something in his mouth. Jerry’s face darkened.

“What’s that,” Jerry said taking notice.

“A little something to enhance my strength.”

“How did a little shit like you get one of those.”

Andrew grinned. Shannon saw a few extra teeth. She shivered.

“I got a few friends in the docks.”

“In the Runnercore?”

He nodded.

For the first time, Shannon thought that Jerry looked a little less confident. His jovial smile seemed to melt away.

Shannon watched as the two men began to circle one another. She wished Mimi was here. She had a feeling that Mimi would know exactly what to do. For a moment, she wondered if she could call Mimi, if somehow she could reach out to her. She could read minds, couldn’t she? Maybe she could hear her? It was a long shot, but she tried with all her might to call to Mimi, to tell her she needed help.

“You might like that shit in pill form kid, but you’ll have wished I killed you when they start you on the chemical injections down below. I’ve heard it makes even the strongest men scream in agony. I’ve heard that some of them don’t even survive the process. Last chance, Andrew.”

Andrew did not waver. He took a swipe at Jerry, but Jerry, despite his size, was far faster than he appeared to be. It was obvious that Andrew had also not expected this, and Shannon watched his eyes grow wide.

While both men were distracted, she tried to stand and was amazed how hard it was without the use of your hands. She laid back down, rolled over on her stomach and then lifted herself up onto her knees. She got to her feet and took a single step forward.

“I don’t think so, little lady,” Jerry said. With one quick swipe, he knocked her right back down and she landed on her face. This time, she felt a tooth pop and tasted blood. She started sobbing but turned to watch the fight. She almost wished Andrew would win. If he really wanted to deal with Mimi, it was a lot better than becoming a plaything of one of the wealthy up in the tops of the skyscrapers.

At the moment that Jerry had turned to knock her down, Andrew had taken a quick swipe at Jerry’s mid-section. He had scored a minor hit; a dark patch was beginning to spread on his uniform. Unfortunately for Andrew, he didn’t even seem to notice.

Nor was Andrew’s retreat quick enough. Though he had sliced Jerry, Jerry had turned around and smashed his fist right into the side of Andrew’s face. The momentum of Jerry turning had given the punch extra weight, and Andrew was knocked down by that singular hard blow.

Jerry pulled his foot back and went to kick Andrew in the gut, but Andrew rolled out of the way just in time and got back on his feet. The left side of his face was already swelling up.

Footsteps slapped the pavement hard from behind Shannon. She hoped to god it was Mimi, but it sounded like several people. Maybe she would have the chance to get away with other people interfering. She rolled onto her stomach again and waited. She would bolt the second Andrew and Jerry were distracted by the newcomers.

She felt a hand grasp hers and lift her. They were big, strong hands.

“What the hell is going on here, Jerry?”

Shannon was standing upright now but was held firm by a medium-sized security officer. His light eyes and thick mustache both twitched as he examined the scene.

“Capitan Richardson, oh man. Glad you’re here.”

Shannon distinctly noticed a tone in Jerry’s voice that suggested otherwise and the captain seemed to notice it too.

“I bet you are, Jerry. You better explain just what in the hell is going on here.”

“This lady here, seems she’s been trading sex for drugs, and I think this guy is her dealer. I overheard them and intervened.”

To her surprise, the captain seemed to doubt this story.

“I bet, Jerry. You and I need to have a long talk when we get back to the station. Maybe it’s even time you and Daniels had a chat.”

Jerry stopped dead in his tracks. He turned his entire body away from Andrew and Andrew broke to run.

Jerry heard the footfalls and turned. “Hey, shithead, get back here.” Before the captain could say another word, Jerry began his pursuit. Shannon saw her chance as the captain was distracted and ran the opposite direction.

Neither of them got very far. Jerry tackled Andrew quickly, and the captain grabbed Shannon before she made it fifty feet. The handcuffs made running odd.

Captain Richardson said, “Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I can’t just let you run away from one of my SOs. Looks bad. We’ll bring you in and try to get to the bottom of this.

Shannon’s face fell.
***

 

Mimi had watched the whole thing. She watched as the guards took Andrew and Shannon away. How could this have happened? She took a deep breath. There was no time to worry about that now. She had to think quickly. Would there be a way to free Shannon from the SOs? She didn’t know.

She tailed them for many blocks from the shadows of the alleys. She knew the streets well. Every crack was familiar. Every shadowy spot was an ally.

There were no openings. No gods or devils intervened. Why would they, they were from nowhere. Even the gods and the devils cared little for those from nowhere.

When Mimi watched Shannon cross the threshold of the entrance to central security, hope leaked from her heart like a barrel of water with a hole in it.

The giant migrating city of Manhatsten had a rigid legal code. No lawyers. No public defenders. Only favoritism. Mimi had seen it dozens of times. History is a circle.

She found a place to weep, to sag in the concrete. A corner of shadows. Stinging tears. Smoky vision. Utter despair. Sleep.

 

 

***

 

 

She was being lifted. Dreaming? No. The smells were too strong. She started to struggle.

“Easy now. Calm yourself.” The woman’s voice was soft and soothing. A strange calm fell over Mimi.

Her voice embodied a dreamlike quality. “Where are we going?”

“To a library. You will be safe there.”

Mimi was certain she would be. Rarely had she been so certain of anything in her life. She found that she did not mind letting the two large SOs carry her. She didn’t mind much of anything.

This concerned her. Like the tumbling of a lock, things began to click in her mind. She became unsettled again, felt the urge to resist, to lash out, rising.

“Calm, Mimi. I am not your enemy.” The voice was compelling.

Another’s woman’s voice said, “Damn. She broke through already?”

Mimi couldn’t see either of them. Both them walked in front of the two SOs who carried her. One had long blonde hair, the other a fiery red.

“Yes, it’s curious how quickly she bypassed my suggestion.”

“She’s dangerous. We should put her back where we found her.”

“Ryla said the same thing about you when we found you.”

“Maybe, but at least I had an honest job. This one is like a stray cat.”

“Feral cat. And I would hardly call Running an honest job.”

“Either way Noatla, I don’t know if she can be trusted.”

Mimi listened, and her agitation began to grow again.

“Rest, Mimi. Soon you will have answers.”

“How many times do you think you are going to have to do that?”

“At this rate, a half dozen more.”

“Can’t we make these SOs go any faster?”

“Serah, you know very well what will happen if we push too hard. Besides, what’s the rush? Soothing her isn’t so difficult. It’s also clear she doesn’t know the full extent of what she can do.”

“How can you be sure of that?”

“If she knew what she was capable of, do you think she would have allowed her lover to be taken away like that?”

“I guess you’re right. Maybe we should suggest that she sleeps again?”

“Mimi, are you tired?”
Mimi knew it was the woman with the blonde hair speaking, but she did not turn to face her. She had the strangest impression that this woman was not using her lips to speak.

Mimi said, “I…I don’t think so.” The moment the words came out, she realized that she wasn’t using her lips, either.

“Mimi, I think you’re tired. I don’t even know how you can keep your eyes open. Why don’t you just rest a while? I bet it would feel wonderful to close your eyes, just for a few minutes.”

“But Shannon…I have to…”

“Shannon can wait. We will make sure she’s okay. Just close your eyes, Mimi. You know how good it will feel, how easy it is just to let your eyelids close. After all, they’re so heavy.”

“No. I can’t…”

Mimi forced her eyes to stay open. She felt the agitation rising in her again. She felt the strength in her arms and legs returning.

“It’s not working Noatla. You better do something fast.”

Noatla said, “Officers, put her down gently. I want to speak with her.”

They obeyed. Mimi jumped up, ready to run, but Noatla, a tall, thin, blonde woman, grabbed her by the arm and held her tight. She was surprisingly strong for how skinny she was. Her face appeared to be chiseled from rock, and her light eyes were piercing.

“Wait a moment, Mimi, just listen.”

Mimi had been wrong. The woman’s lips moved just like anyone else’s. Perhaps she was mistaken because of what she had done earlier in the day?

“Why should I?”

“You want to help Shannon, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“You’d think after all the resistance she put up when we tried to get her up here earlier, that she didn’t want to save her girlfriend,” The red-haired woman said.

“Hush, you know all too well what it was like before you entered the Order. Mimi, do you recognize me?” asked Noatla.

“No, should I?”

Serah said, “Of course she doesn’t recognize you, you think this one votes?”

Mimi said, “Votes?”

Noatla smiled. Mimi liked her smile. She began to notice how attractive this woman was. A pang of guilt hit her chest, and her mind turned back to Shannon.

“Yes Mimi, I am Senator Noatla Lightfoot of District 14. This district. If you come with me, I might be able to help you with Shannon.”

Mimi scowled. “Why would you want to help me and why should I believe you?”

“Those are both very good questions. All I ask is that you come with me to the library and hear me out. After that, you are free to do whatever you wish.”

“With the SOs following us? How do I know you don’t want to sell me to one of your Upper friends?”

Noatla frowned for a moment, but then stood and turned to face the SOs.

She said, “You may go now. You are needed in District 13.”

The two SOs turned and left without a moment’s hesitation. Mimi felt a deep sense of relief to see them go, but she still was wary of trusting an Upper. The Uppers loved to mess with the homeless, some of them got off on it.

Serah said, “What’s in District 13?”

Noatla smiled, “Oh, probably nothing, but I am sure they will figure out something important to do.” Noatla turned back towards Mimi. “So, will you come with us?”

This time, the woman wasn’t using her voice. Her lips were still. Then it occurred to Mimi.

“Are you like me? Can you skim?”

Noatla smiled. “Much more than just, as you put it, skim.”

Mimi asked, “What’s at the library?”

“A chance for you to use your gifts for the benefit of this city. A chance for you to be off the streets and in a safe home.”

“Why? What’s in it for you?”

“Come, listen. Hear what we have to say. I promise if you choose to leave, no one will stop you. As you’ve already seen, we cannot even pacify you for long. You have an extraordinarily strong mind.”

Mimi nodded and followed.

Mimi of the Nowhere Ch. 4 An Ancient Past

Check out Chapter 4, in which Mimi shares her origin story. How did she become homeless? How has she survived for centuries in the giant walking city of Manhatsten?

If you haven’t already you can find the previous chapters at the following links.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Container

Life on the street is hard. Drug dealers, thieves, and even the security officers of the giant walking city of Manhatsten are up to no good. But somehow, Mimi’s done it for centuries. Of course, it helps that she is able to peak into other people’s minds and avoid trouble most of the time. Unfortunately, that same talent is about to get her into a whole other world of trouble. One that she never even knew existed.

Mimi of the Nowhere launches on 5/17/18!

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Chapter 4

An Ancient Past

Mimi lay naked, feeling the softness of Shannon’s skin on hers. Their bodies pressed closer as she pulled a blanket up over them. If she was going to do this, she wanted to feel Shannon close to her, wanted to feel the comfort of her touch. Shannon was much longer than her, but their slender forms accented each other perfectly.

“I’m gonna start at the beginning, if that’s okay. I have to warn you, some of this is going to be hard to believe, and I know the fact that I have been hiding a lot of things may not help you believe me, but I swear to you, everything I am about to tell you is the truth, Okay?”

“Okay.” Shannon was afraid, but the fact they had just made love had helped ease some of that fear. Mimi hoped her story wouldn’t be too much for her, but there was only one way to find out.

“I was born in the third century after the city began its migration. Hard to believe, I know, but my father died in the second uprising after the city began moving. My mother, who became pregnant only days before my father was killed, did her very best to survive in the city alone. She managed to find a job. She had a place to live in the lowers, and began trying to put a life together for me. It was hard. I have a lot of memories of the first years of my life of my mother bringing home security personnel for favors and extra credits.”

Shannon frowned. “She sold herself?”

Mimi nodded. “She did what she had to do to survive. And because of it, she was able to get me into a school in the Lower Mids. One of her regulars had a contact there. It was my mother’s hope that I could move up into the mids and out of the lowers. The school was even on the 15th level.”

“15th? But I thought Lowers needed a special pass to move above ten?”

“Yeah, this guard got me one. I guess he must have really liked my mother. But I can’t imagine it was that hard, I mean it’s not like he was trying to get access above the 40th level where the Uppers live, right?”

Shannon nodded, “Still, it couldn’t have been that easy. Wait, how did you end up homeless?”

Mimi frowned, “I’m getting to that.” She shifted her body around and became Shannon’s big spoon. Her skin was so soft and warm. She nuzzled Shannon for a moment, then took deep breaths inward, taking in her scent. For the moment at least, she felt safe.

“Things went alright for a while. The mid school was much harder than the lower one, but I’m not stupid, so I did okay. Mostly I pulled average marks. But then my thirteenth birthday rolled around, and everything changed.”

“See, I think my mother had become addicted to something. I started to notice changes in her behavior. It was small at first, but after a while, she started to scream at me for not finishing simple chores. A few times she hit me, nothing terrible, mind you, but she did. Before I was twelve, my mother had never raised a hand to me, not once. She had barely ever raised her voice.

Shannon turned to face Mimi again. She was looking directly into her eyes, and Mimi hesitated for a moment and swallowed hard.

“One night, a man came. I don’t know exactly who he was, but I figured he was one of my mother’s…gentlemen. But then the yelling started. He was yelling about money, that my mother owed him a lot and that her body just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Then he asked where I was, said that maybe I would be able to help her pay the debt.”

Shannon’s eyes began to water. “No…he didn’t.”

Mimi shook her head. “Thankfully not. See, my mother, for all her weird mood swings, was not about to let anyone lay a finger on me. So, this man burst into my room and just as he stepped in the door, my mother put a knife right through his back. The man screamed, turned around and began choking her. I jumped up out of bed and began kicking him as hard as I could but nothing would help, he wouldn’t let her go. He just kicked me away. He was going to kill her.”

Mimi paused for a moment to wipe a tear away from her face. Shannon leaned forward and kissed the spot where the tear had been.

“I did what I had to do. See, the little steak knife was still in his back. I don’t think my mother had hurt him very much with it. So, I pulled it out and just started…using it on him. I don’t know how many times I stabbed him. I just wanted him to stop hurting my mother.” Mimi’s voice began to shake, along with her body, and the tears began to flow freely.

“She was all I really had.” Mimi buried her face into Shannon’s breasts for a moment and sobbed. Shannon stroked her hair in silence until Mimi calmed down.

She sniffled, her voice was low and hoarse. “The next thing I remember is my mother taking the knife out of my hands. I remember her packing my things. I remember her telling me I had to go; I had to hide somewhere. I didn’t want to leave, though. I knew what would happen to her if I did.”

“Did she…end up a Runner?”

Mimi nodded, “Is there any other punishment in this city?”

Shannon didn’t shake her head. She didn’t need to. She didn’t know there was another kind of punishment, but Mimi didn’t feel like it was the right time to talk about it.

“She made me leave though, threw me out the door. Screamed at me, hit me, kicked me, everything she could to get me out the door. She didn’t want anything to happen to me. I didn’t understand then, and for years after I thought she just wanted to be rid of me, but, well, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. I know now that everything she did was to protect me.”

Shannon asked, “Then what happened? I mean, how did you end up down here?”

“That’s a long story. But there’s some other stuff first, like why I need Likatol.”

Mimi hesitated. “See, I don’t know what it was about that night. I don’t know if it was the act of taking someone’s life. I don’t know if it was my mother kicking me out. I don’t know if maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had no idea how to survive on the streets, but something in me woke up.”

Shannon cocked her head a little. “What do you mean?”

Mimi looked at her directly in the eyes. “This is going to be hard to believe. But after that night I started to hear voices. At first, I thought I was just going crazy. I thought that maybe I was losing my mind. I noticed that some of the other homeless people talked to themselves and I thought maybe that was where I was headed. But then I noticed something else, that sometimes when I was talking to people, I seemed to hear their voice both when they were speaking and when they weren’t. It created a few awkward situations.”

Mimi paused for a moment and watched for Shannon’s reaction. She deliberately stayed out of Shannon’s head. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know what she was thinking. Then she saw recognition on Shannon’s face.

“Wait…are you telling me…you read minds?”

Mimi looked away from her and nodded. But Shannon grabbed her chin so that she would look directly at her again. Mimi expected her to yell, to laugh, to scoff, or something that all her other lovers had done, but instead she said, “Well shit, that completely makes sense.”

Mimi blinked. “It does?”

“Um yeah. You know a lot of shit you shouldn’t know. Like when those sanitation workers were coming. You know all this information, that–having dropped out of school–you shouldn’t know. I mean I can think of a hundred times when I thought to myself, my god, does she read minds or something? And it turned out to be true.”

“So you’re not weirded out or mad or anything?”

“No, why would I be? It’s just another reason to love you for the amazing person you are.”

Mimi’s eyes began to burn, and before she could stop herself, she realized she was bawling. Shannon pulled her close. Mimi could feel her fingertips caressing her cheek.

“Why are you crying, Mimi?”

Mimi couldn’t answer, she just kept sobbing and pulled herself even closer to Shannon. She wanted nothing more at that moment than to merge with her, to be so intimately close to her that she couldn’t ever pull apart again. Here was someone, at last, who might finally be able to understand. And then she felt her eyes closing. For the first time in years, she felt at home.

*          *            *

Her face felt stuck. She lifted her head and felt the skin between Shannon’s bare breasts pull off her face. She blinked and looked around, wondering how long she had been asleep, but there was no way to know. Shannon herself was breathing deeply, her mouth hanging open with her head tilted back.

Mimi ran her fingers up the side of her face. There was so much more to tell her, and for the first time in a very long while, she felt she had a partner, someone to whom she could actually tell things. Of course, it did remain to be seen how Shannon interacted with her now that she knew that whenever she wanted, she could skim her mind. But Mimi wouldn’t do that now. Now that she knew, she would respect her privacy. It was a funny thing. It seemed as if the moment someone knew about her abilities, she didn’t want to skim them anymore; that somehow, she felt like she was violating some semblance of privacy, yet she had no problem with doing this to a stranger or an acquaintance.

She lifted her body and put her clothes on. They were becoming tattered from wear. She would have to scrape together some more credits for new ones.

She rummaged through a small case to the left of her bed and found her bottle of Likatol. She didn’t need much, just a tablet every few days or so. A bottle usually lasted her about six months.

“So, you didn’t quite tell me why you need that stuff.”

Shannon was sitting up and stretching. She looked around the room, found her clothes around the various locations and put them on.

“Well, it has to do with my…talent, for lack of a better word. See, at first, it wasn’t such a big deal. I could easily skim people whenever I wanted.”

“Skim?”

“Oh, that’s what I call it when I read people. I call it skimming because so far as I know, I can only read what they are actively thinking about. I have never gone any deeper than that, and in truth, with most people, I am a little afraid to do so. People keep a lot of secrets, you know.”

Shannon nodded and moved over to Mimi and put her arms around her. They spoke face to face now.

“That’s kind of a relief. I can’t say I like the idea of you fishing around through my memories and stuff.”

“Yeah, and also…I won’t read you anymore.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“Well now that you know what I can do, I don’t feel comfortable doing it.”

Shannon moved her lips back and forth and looked around the room. “I don’t think it’s a big deal if you want to read me.”

“No, I’m not going to. It’s fine.”

“Alright. So, the drugs?”

“Yeah, so by the time I turned 16 it started to get more intense. There were these moments when I couldn’t control it, and the entire city within a few kilometers would rush into my head. Probably a few hundred thousand people, all speaking at once. It was overwhelming. It made me sick. Sometimes it would just give me a migraine and sometimes it would make me physically ill.”

“So the Likatol helps?”

“Yes. I mean, I tried a whole bunch of other stuff first. Lots of people thought I was an addict. But I don’t think I was ever addicted to anything. I only ever took something when the headaches were really bad. The problem was, I couldn’t stay clear, couldn’t function with any of the other stuff.”

“Isn’t Likatol to stop people from getting addicted to drugs? Like I heard that Uppers would take it before going on a long drug binge or something.”

“Yeah, that’s what I heard too. And there was one day that my dealer only had Likatol, so I thought what the hell, and gave it a try. I don’t know what it is in there, but for some reason, it gives me control over my talent. I don’t have to worry about headaches or sickness and obviously, because it doesn’t get you high, there are no debilitating effects.”

“How often do you have to take it?”

“Thankfully only once every few days, sometimes up to a week. It depends on how stressed out the city is, I think.”

“What does that mean?”

“If something stressful is going on, like there are security raids, or there is another migrating city nearby, people get nervous and anxious, and that stress impacts me more. When the city of Lundon did that raid a few years back, and the entire Runnercore went into combat, I had to take two Likatol a day just to keep from getting sick.”

“Wow.” Shannon kissed her forehead and turned around to gather up her things.

“Going somewhere?” asked Mimi.

“I’m hungry. I thought about getting my daily ration. And see if there is any more news about Tanya. But one thing first, who else knows?”

“No one.”

“No one? Not even Bobby or Angela?”

Mimi was mostly a loner, but Bobby and Angela were a couple that she occasionally spent time with. “No, not even them. You have to understand, I can’t trust a lot of people with this. If it got out and someone actually believed it…”

“I get it…don’t tell anyone, right?”

Mimi nodded. “Please.”

“Don’t worry, love, your secrets are safe with me.”

Mimi watched her leave and head back to the streets. She had the overwhelming feeling that even though Shannon fully intended to keep her secret safe, she wouldn’t. She had a sinking feeling that like in times past, everything was about to go wrong. And it seemed like that intuition was never wrong. Perhaps that was a skill set that she had too, that she simply hadn’t understood before.

She shivered, closed her eyes, and took a few deep breaths. The cat was out of the bag now and there was nothing to be done. But later, she would think to herself, that there was something she could have done, that when everything went bad, she should have always followed Shannon back up to the surface. She shouldn’t have let her leave her side. It might have made all the difference.

Mimi of the Nowhere Chapter 3: Orphan’s Alley

Chapter 3 of Mimi of the Nowhere is now up!

You can find Chapter 1 here 
And Chapter 2 Here 

A brief synopsis of the book:

First Sketch of Mimi

Life on the street is hard. Drug dealers, thieves, and even the security officers of the giant walking city of Manhatsten are up to no good. But somehow, Mimi’s done it for centuries. Of course, it helps that she is able to peak into other people’s minds and avoid trouble most of the time. Unfortunately, that same talent is about to get her into a whole other world of trouble. One that she never even knew existed.

The sketch of the main character, Mimi, is by the very talented Kayla Rose who recently agreed to do the cover art. Check her amazing work at the link.

Mimi of the Nowhere launches on 5/17/18

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Chapter 3

Orphan’s Alley

Mimi surfaced and walked the street until she reached the entry to Orphan’s Alley. Passing through the mob of homeless, she took inventory of those she recognized and the ones she didn’t. They were islands, shackled and disheveled. Some clung to their cart full of possessions, others to the rags that draped their bodies and little else. For most of them, there was little to cling to, and so they clung tight.

Here, the homeless had no fear of the cold winter nights when they may meet endless sleep. They had no hesitation in the heat of the summer sun, needing to seek shade and water to survive the onslaught. They would not starve. They would not die of disease. The alcoves ended disease centuries ago. But some would be beaten; some would be recruited into the Runnercore. Some would be exploited in other ways, especially the women. All were disposable, like so much cast away paper, waiting for a time when their purpose, like so much else in the city, was recycled.

The city had various spaces where the homeless clustered, where they pressed their tired bodies up against ancient brick and mortar. There were only a few places that city security allowed them to live and so there was a limitation to where they could lay their tired heads. This one was called Orphan’s Alley. A name that the residents themselves had given it hundreds of years prior. Probably none here were alive to see the naming, but names, like ideas, can be passed on through the generations, and there wasn’t much else for the homeless of the city to pass on. Names were their empty legacy.

A single food dispenser had been installed at the end of Orphan’s Alley. It provided only the basics, a green algae nutrient-rich soup, once a day. It was enough to keep a person alive, but only just. If you could figure out a way to earn some credits you could get more, but panhandling was strictly forbidden in Manhatsten and so those who the city had cast aside, who it had made orphans, were left with only illegal means. After all, no one would hire you in the city if you did not have a place of residence somewhere. And illegal means usually meant that eventually you were caught and recruited.

Orphan’s Alley, a prime recruitment ground.

Mimi found who she was looking for. A man, standing slouched against a corner, thin brown rags covering his body in multicolored clumps held together by safety pins, staples, and in a few places, stitches. He was a tall man with short, dark, greasy hair, chopped off in places with a blade. Facial hair crowded the edges of the scars but did not dare cross it.

His voice was soft and deep. It was a welcoming tone like a snake’s slither. “Mimi, good to see you, you know I was just telling the boys you’d be back any day now.”

The redness was still there, just under the surface, and Mimi felt it threatening to break free. What part of her had she opened? It was a terrible, empty feeling. It was hungry, and she didn’t like it. It almost seemed to be whispering to her, telling her to release it.

Her eyes locked on the dealer. Mimi shrugged. “What else have I got to do to kill the time, Andrew?”

“Hmmm. True enough,” a ragged grin spread across his face, revealing several missing teeth. “Do you have credits? Or are you finally going to make some other arrangements?”

“I have credits.”

Andrew frowned, “You know, I am sure that if you would like to pay some other way than credits, we could arrange a more physical kind of payment.”

“No thanks.” She couldn’t help but skim his mind. She saw what she didn’t want to see. In his mind he was undressing her, peeling back the layers of her ragged clothes, unwrapping her like a little boy’s present.

Mimi felt her face flush. The redness rose in her. It spiraled upward. She could almost hear it beckoning her to unleash it on him. It was hungry for him, in the same way Andrew was hungry for her body.

She shook her head. “No.”

“Hmmm? What was that, Mimi? Let’s make a deal, one night with me for several months’ supply of Likatol.”

“No, Andrew.” She took a step back from him. The redness had died down now, but her normal anger was brewing and she didn’t want any more trouble today. Her heart was aching for her argument with Shannon, and she wasn’t sure if she could fix it.

“Tell you what, one night and I’ll give you a full year’s supply. Come on now, that’s more than generous, and I certainly won’t need an entire night, perhaps just a few hours.”

Why was he so insistent? Normally, Andrew knew how to take no for an answer. Mimi risked skimming his mind again for another moment and saw something she had never seen before. Something was pressing on him, putting pressure on him. It was almost like someone was encouraging him, egging him on.

What was happening lately? For so long, she thought she knew the rules, thought that she had everything about her abilities figured out, but first there was that strange silence by her favorite fishing hole, then the redness, and now this? It was almost too much. It was like someone, or something was changing all the rules, and she couldn’t act fast enough to figure out what they were.

Mimi shook her head. “No, Andrew.” She paused for a moment when his face twitched. Fear traced her spine, a cold finger. She could feel him growing impatient. But this was not the impatience of a man, rather of a stray dog hungry for meat.

She thought about walking away but then her anger released. She wasn’t going to be bullied by some low-life dealer. She wasn’t going to put up with any of his shit and she was going to make that clear.

She moved up closely to Andrew, leaning in almost as if she was going to kiss him. He leaned in close and then at the last moment, she dug her elbow right into his neck, pressing it into his windpipe. He choked and tried to step back but she had him pinned against the wall. His hands reached up to grasp for her arm but as he did, she pressed harder. His eyes bulged as his skin purpled and she felt satisfaction as she skimmed his mind and found terror.

“Do you really think that I would ever let you put your filthy hands on me, dealer? Do I look like some kind of whore to you?”

He was barely able to draw breath, but he still managed a guttural, gasping, “No.”

“Bet you thought I was just some weak little thing, didn’t you? You asshole, I’ve been on the streets longer than you’ve been alive, and if I even feel your eyes undressing me again, I’ll fucking pluck them out and feed them to you.”

Mimi thought that despite the dark shade of his face, he paled a bit at that statement, and a quick skim confirmed that not only did he believe her, but that he was thinking, “This bitch is crazy.”

“Yes Andrew, I am crazy, and I’m not afraid to maim your ass.”

His eyes were beginning to close. She skimmed his mind to wait ‘til just before he lost consciousness. She didn’t want him to pass out; something might be lost in the experience if he did. She wanted him to remember this day for a good, long while. It wasn’t the first time she had to put the hurt on a man like this, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Her best defense was a reputation and she had to maintain that. Long experience had given her every tool she needed to intimidate even the stronger men.

She pulled back her elbow and he fell forward, taking deep and wide breaths. On all fours, saliva dripped from his mouth as he coughed and sputtered.

Mimi said, “Act like a dog, get treated like one.”

There was a moment when his mind was blank, when she was sure he wasn’t going to say anything. It passed. At first, he seemed to be having trouble making words, as if he had forgotten language. Then he said, “Forget it, bitch.” He wheezed and coughed. “I’m done selling to you.”

Mimi shrugged, “Fine by me. I’ll take my business elsewhere. You’re not the only one ‘round here to sell Likatol, asshole. You’re just the dumbest and cheapest.”

In truth, Mimi hated to have to go looking for another reliable source of Likatol, but she was also tired of Andrew. In the old days, she might have done more than just choke him a little, she might have made sure he remembered the lesson for years to come. But lately, she was getting tired.

“Get the hell away from me, you bitch. I don’t ever want to see your face again.”

She headed back through the crowd and out of Orphan’s Alley. She only had a few days of supply left, so she would have to find someone else soon. She thought she might try one of the other city districts–she preferred staying around District 17 since it was so close to her hovel–but last time she checked, Districts 8 and 13 usually had a steady supply of Likatol.

She walked out past the threshold of the homeless territory, her mind at work on the problem at hand. She had, for the moment, forgotten about Shannon, knowing that the headaches would come soon, that the voices would grow so strong, that tears would come.

She rounded a corner and bumped into someone. The collision caught her by surprise, but a steady hand reached out and grabbed her and kept her from falling. It was Shannon.

Mimi froze. Here was another secret she was going to have to explain, and judging by the look on Shannon’s face, she probably had no idea why she could possibly want drugs. And to explain why she needed them, she would have to explain a whole hell of a lot more than her age.

“So, you’re a drug addict?” The wrinkles on her forehead creased. Her short blond hair never hid those wrinkles very well.

“No, I’m not.”

“So what were you doing talking to Andrew?”

Mimi breathed a heavy sigh. What could she say? That she needed small doses of Likatol to keep the entire city out of her head? That she would get terrible migraines without them because she could read people’s minds? Doubtful Shannon would believe her.

“Shannon, maybe it’s best if we don’t see each other anymore.”

Shannon’s face changed, from anger and frustration to shock and hurt.

“What? Wait, I don’t understand. I…”

“I like my privacy, Shannon. I understand you want to share your life with me, but there are certain things I am not sure I can share, not now anyway. I’m not a drug addict, in fact, what I need is Likatol, but I don’t think you would believe me if I told you why I need it.”

Strictly speaking, Likatol wasn’t a drug, it was a pill that someone could take before going on a drug binge. It would keep the user from losing all control and from becoming addicted, but it wouldn’t block the high. Likatol was a kind of drug buffer.

“Try me.” There was a note of desperation in her voice. “Please, Mimi, you said you loved me…”

Mimi shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. Anyone I have ever told has gotten hurt. It’s best if you stay away from me.”

Mimi began walking down the city streets. Shannon followed close behind. At first, she kept trying to stop Mimi, to get her to talk to her, but after a while, she just followed in silence. Mimi blocked her out, refused even to skim her. It was better this way. She would give up soon enough, she would go on with her life. Besides, it was better than Shannon leaving her, as some of them did.

After more than twenty blocks, Mimi began to hear sobs and sniffling directly behind her. She tried to ignore it, to let Shannon cry, but after a few more blocks she couldn’t take it. She loved her. There was something special about Shannon, something soft and warm. She made Mimi feel safe and warm and special. Shannon really cared about her. It was like, with Shannon, all the wounds from her life on the street didn’t ache so much.

She opened herself to Shannon’s mind. She dipped into it and there was comfort there. Comfort in knowing that this woman, more than anything, just wanted to feel Mimi in her arms, wanted to embrace her and never let her go. There was something powerful in knowing someone else’s thoughts, especially when those thoughts were of love and longing. People said a lot of shit, and their minds so often cast a shadow over the true meaning. But here, here was a woman who truly loved her and knew it.

Mimi could not stand against it. When love comes like that, all you can do is surrender, to lay down your arms and submit to the will of those who would love you. For in denying it, you face only regret. Mimi had been waiting for this a long time, she just hadn’t known it.

She stopped. As she turned, she realized that she too had been crying. She looked directly at Shannon, whose streams of tears had eroded the soot in streaks on her narrow face. Mimi reached up and touched her own face, running her finger along her cheeks, her tears had cleansed those parts they had touched.

Shannon stopped and looked at her. She took one step closer and hesitated. Mimi felt Shannon’s question press against her. All Shannon wanted was to hold her. Mimi moved closer to her, pulled her close and kissed her. Both minds blanked to the warmth of the embrace. Mimi could taste the salt from her tears on her lips. Then she pulled away slightly and hugged her hard.

“I’m so sorry, Shannon. I love you… I… Let’s go back to my place and I’ll tell you whatever you want.”

Shannon didn’t say anything, but skimming her mind told Mimi of the overwhelming relief she was feeling. Shannon’s smile was enough. The tears couldn’t darken it.
Perhaps it was time to take a chance. Perhaps this time would be for keeps. Maybe that was Mimi’s purpose, to love as deeply as she could.

A small voice pushed up in the back of Mimi’s mind. “This one won’t last long. It will be even shorter than Daniel. You will watch her suffer. It’s what happens every time someone gets close to you. Free her now or you will bring her nothing but misery.”

The voice almost sounded real, almost sounded external. Mimi felt a bit of a headache and took a few deep breaths.

She looked at Shannon again. She drank in her beautiful eyes and face and raised her right hand up to wipe away her tears. Her heart longed to be with her, to hold her close and feel her touch. She pulled Shannon in close and kissed her again, feeling the warmth of her body pressed against hers, the softness of her lips making her body tremble with joy.

She pulled away, grabbed Shannon’s hand and together, they walked home.

Mimi of the Nowhere: Chapter 2 Home Sweet Home

Mimi’s adventure continues in Chapter 2: Home Sweet Home.

If you haven’t read it already, Chapter 1: The Fishing Hole is here

A brief synopsis of the book. Mimi Chapter 2

Life on the street is hard. Drug dealers, thieves, and even the security officers of the giant walking city of Manhatsten are up to no good. But somehow, Mimi’s done it for centuries. Of course, it helps that she is able to peak into other people’s minds and avoid trouble most of the time. Unfortunately, that same talent is about to get her into a whole other world of trouble. One that she never even knew existed.

Mimi of the Nowhere launches on 5/17/18

I am still accepting a few more readers to get Advanced Review Copies (ARC). If you are interested in getting an early copy in exchange for an honest review, sign up at the bottom and put that you would like to receive an early copy in the comments. I am taking ARC readers until 4/17/18.

Chapter 2

Home Sweet Home

Mimi worked her way through the large, cold pipe on her hands and knees, careful to keep the fish from touching the ground. The weight of it dangling was not great, but she struggled to steady its swaying motion as she shuffled along.

She slid out of the exit into the open area that led to her lair. A giant, metallic cylinder occupied most of the space. It was several stories tall and made a constant humming noise. Its outer shell was marked with rust and age.

Behind her, Shannon slid out of the pipe. Her sneakers slapped against the ground. The impact was almost too much. The sneakers barely hung together, bound by adhesive strips. Her clothes, like Mimi’s, were sewn together from discarded bits of cloth they had scavenged from the clothing recycling center.

So much of the city was recycled; it had to be. But the city, approaching the mid-twelfth century of its age, was showing signs of its tireless movement. Only rarely did the city cease walking across the barren landscape, and then it shuttered under the vibration of a massive drill, extracting the scraps of resources that were left in the earth’s crust.

“Wow, this is where you live?” asked Shannon. “Yuck.” She plugged her nose. “What’s that smell?”

“Sewage and garbage. Though there might be other things mixed in there, I’m not sure.”

Shannon almost gagged. “Here I thought, we’ve been together six months and I haven’t even been to her place yet. I thought maybe you were hiding something. You were: your place smells like shit.”

Mimi laughed. “Shit’s only part of it.”

“Why does it smell so terrible?”

“Because,” Mimi waved her stick toward the giant cylinder. “That’s a biorecycler. Well, the bottom half of it, anyway. The other half is up in one of the Sanitation departments.”
“But aren’t those things supposed to be sealed? Why does it smell so bad?”

“It leaks sometimes.”

“What, like, on you?”

“Nah, I’m over on the other side over there.” She pointed down a narrow corridor. “I think things would have to be bad in the city before the whole thing emptied. Maybe a war with one of the other cities or something. Besides, it’s one of the safest places in the whole city for someone like us.”

They walked toward the corridor. Small, iridescent puddles twinkled in the light. Mimi didn’t know what all the chemicals were, but she steered Shannon around each one.

“Doesn’t smell like it. Why’s it so safe?”

“No one comes down here unless there’s a major problem. So far, there’s been one in the last few hundred years.”

Mimi realized her mistake at once and hoped Shannon wouldn’t notice. She almost swore out loud. Instead, she held her breath.

Shannon stopped and grabbed Mimi’s right arm, the one without the dangling fish. “Wait a second. How. Old. Are. You?”

“Seventy or so.” Her words came out rapid fire. She knew she could pass for seventy, though she didn’t look a day over the age of twenty-five; it was the product of the regeneration alcoves. Even the homeless had occasional access to them. It was cheaper than dealing with disease and medical care, so the Uppers–the ones who lived in the top floors of the city–had decided to make some alcoves accessible to everyone, but only often enough that someone who was homeless or living in the lower parts of the city could live a maximum lifespan of two-hundred years or so.

“Then how do you know when this thing last broke down?”

“Uh… I looked it up. Come on, it doesn’t smell so bad back where I’m at.” Mimi knew that wasn’t going to cut it, but she couldn’t come up with anything else to say.

Shannon followed, but Mimi could tell she was frustrated. She would have to tell her some truth soon at least. It was hard to lie all the time. There was so much to keep track of. But how was she going to explain her age? How would she explain that she had found a way to access a regeneration alcove and extend her life like the wealthy Uppers in the city? She knew exactly where that would lead. Daniel had wanted access to the alcoves, and it had cost him everything.

They stepped over the crisscross networks of pipes in one section, ducked under them in another, and moved their way through several cramped areas until, finally, they reached her nest.

It wasn’t anything special, but it was a spot to call home. Multicolored sheets patched together tightly to create a sturdy outer covering over a frame of pipes, tucked away in a corner. It was well-hidden. You had to be looking for it to know it was there. Mimi pulled back a flap and ushered Shannon inside. A small, ancient mattress lay on the floor next to a small makeshift camping stove. The mattress also had patches, like a bandaged soldier after a battle. It was lumpy and uneven, but much better than anything they would find at street level. A few tattered maps of the city hung in the corners, displaying the underground networks of tunnels and pipes.

“Where’d you get the furniture and pictures? Some place down here?”

“The furniture, well, you just have to know where to look. Mattresses don’t exactly grow in Central Park. The maps I stole from Sanitation. Not like they will miss them.”

“What do you need the maps for?”

Mimi shrugged, “Nothing really, anymore. I know most of those tunnels by heart now, but it took a while to get the hang of them.”

“So why do you still have them up?”

“Habit, I guess. Better than nothing, right? Makes it feel cozy.”

Shannon walked around the room inspecting everything. “Hmmm. I suppose so.” She lifted the bottom of one of the maps and looked under, exposing the splotched green and brown cloth below. “Yeah, better with the maps. You need some flowers here or something.”

“Flowers? You’re joking, right?”

“You could swipe some from Central Park or one of the other green spaces in the city.”

Mimi shook her head, “Do you want to attract attention? You know how much those flowers go for in the uppers?”

Shannon shook her head.

“Let’s put it this way, you’d probably end up in front of the Supreme Justices.”

“For flowers?”

“For flowers.”

“So, you’ve never picked any?”

“No, have you?”

“No, but they smell so nice. I just thought that…” Shannon trailed off.

Mimi shrugged. “Think whatever you want, the point is, getting the attention of the Security Officers for flowers seems like a waste.”

“But in the vid screens… when a girl brings another flowers, it’s so romantic.”

“That’s the vid screens. Those programs are all about Mids and Uppers, anyway. No one wants to hear love stories about a couple of homeless women.”

Shannon frowned.

Mimi reached over and pressed a few buttons to prime the makeshift stove. She pulled the fish off her broom handle and flopped it down on the grill. She turned around and pulled out a wide and flat piece of metal with a wooden handle. It was bound together by some cheap twine.

“What’s that?” Shannon stared at the object.

“You ever gut a fish before?”

“Gut?”

“Yeah, gut. You can’t just plop it on a grill and cook, you know. You gotta take out the guts, cut off the head.”

“Ew, what?” Shannon’s nose wrinkled. Her face paled.

“I’ll show you.” Mimi grabbed the fish and stepped outside her dwelling. She found a flat surface and Shannon, following reluctantly, watched as she raised the blade and brought it down just south of the fish’s head. It made a soft squishing sound and a little of the creature’s juices sprayed onto both women.

Shannon’s eyes widened, and she pushed past Mimi. She ran around a corner and vomited.

Afterward, Shannon refused to eat the fish. Mouth full, Mimi said, “You can’t be so squeamish about things down here. You have to eat what you can get or you’ll go hungry.”

Shannon said nothing. She kept looking at the maps, kept looking at the ancient sheets that were tied to the pipes. Her hand caressed them. Then, keeping her eyes off of the fish, she stared right at Mimi.

“Alright, how old are you, really? And don’t give me that seventy crap. Besides, you look way too young for seventy anyway, even with our alcove allotment. It’s clear you’re a lot older than that.”

Mimi shrugged. “Women of Asian descent just age slowly.” She paused for a moment.  “Tomorrow we’ll take another trip down below. There’s a food dispenser down there I can hack sometimes, if you don’t like the fish.”

“Don’t change the subject. You have access to an alcove, don’t you?”

Mimi swallowed her last bite of the fish. “Sure you’re not going to eat?”

Shannon shook her head and gestured for Mimi to eat the rest.

“Answer me, please, or I’m leaving.”

“Come on now, Shannon, don’t say that. I love you.”

Shannon was almost sidetracked by this. Her face lit up. “You do?” Then her face darkened a little. “You love me, do you? But not enough to tell me the truth?” Shannon shifted her body in the chair, the little table wobbling off balance. “You’re always lying to me. You’re always holding back information. This little hut or whatever this is, is just another example. You didn’t tell me about it ’til last week. So, tell me the truth.”
There was a severity in her voice that Mimi took seriously. Shannon’s mind had always been a rather serious place, and her emotions always close to the edge, but it was clear she meant what she said, even without skimming.

“Alright. What do you want to know?”

“Everything.”

Mimi rolled her eyes. “They always do. Just pick something.”

Shannon scowled a little. “They? How many women have you brought down to your little hobbit hole?”

Mimi knew from the surface of Shannon’s mind that she didn’t really want an answer to that question. Few did. She knew that Shannon was a jealous person, but she was feeling a bit annoyed. Plus, the fish hadn’t been as good as she had hoped.

She made to count her fingers, pretending like she had to think about it. “Oh… Hmm… I think nine women and eight men have shared this bed.”

“Excuse me?”

“What? You told me to be honest.”

“So what am I? Your flavor of the month or something?”

Mimi rolled her eyes. “Considering how many years I’ve been doing this, more like flavor of the decade?”

Shannon’s face reddened for a moment and then she smiled. “Ha!” Shannon shouted. “I knew you were older than seventy. Tell me the truth. How old are you? You won’t distract me.”

Mimi bit her lip. Again, she pretended to count. This time she took much longer to respond even though she knew the exact number. It was hard to forget her 13th birthday. She thought on how easy it is to mark that night as the end of her normal life, to count off the exact distance from it. How could she forget the night she had murdered someone?

“Let’s see, in April I’ll be 782.”

Shannon’s jaw dropped, fishlike. Mimi was tempted to throw a piece of fish into it, but restrained herself.

“But… how? Even most Mids rarely live that long with their allotment. Oldest Mid I ever heard of was 650. I mean, Uppers, sure, but they’re the only ones who can afford unlimited access to the alcoves.”

She shrugged. “You’re right. I found an alcove.”

“What, just lying around?”

“Yep, just sitting right in the open underground.” Mimi knew Shannon didn’t understand her sarcasm and heard her ask herself if she was serious. “Yep. Serious.”

Shannon’s big eyes narrowed, “You’re being sarcastic.”

It wasn’t a question. Shannon was catching on, at least. “It’s dangerous.”

“So what? So is living on the street for any woman in this city.”

“Not like this. My last lover, Daniel… he got…” Mimi froze. She didn’t like to talk about Daniel, about what they had done to them. There were worse punishments than becoming a Runner, worse than dying. Daniel had been caught red-handed because he hadn’t listened to her, had gone to the alcove when she had told him not to.

“Don’t even think about it,” said Mimi. “It won’t happen.”

Mimi saw the anger forming on Shannon’s mind. She saw what she was about to say. She felt her own rage envelop her.

“Oh, I see. So, every few decades you get yourself a pet, someone to shack up with for a while, someone whom you can cast away when you’re bored, when they get too old and you don’t want their body anymore.”

The anger rolled from Mimi’s tongue, like dripping venom. “What the hell do you know? You’re just a little girl. Twenty-seven is barely an adult. You have no idea how deeply I’ve loved. You don’t understand what it’s like to watch someone you love stolen away from you.”

“Um… Tanya,” said Shannon.

Mimi felt the anger pulse in her chest. Her heartbeat thudded in her ears. She felt her tone sharpen. “Oh, no, no, no. There are things much worse than becoming a Runner, worse than death. You don’t even have a clue.” Mimi slammed down the remains of her food to the floor. She stood up at full height, which wasn’t much above Shannon’s height at sitting. But Shannon drew back.

For a moment, the light of the room tinged red. She had the strange sensation that her words somehow flowed into Shannon’s brain almost in the same way that Mimi could skim minds.

“Shannon, I’ve never had the luxury of watching someone grow old. Every single person I ever brought down here and told my secrets to ignored me. Every single one either left me because I wouldn’t tell them how to find the alcove, or ended up a Runner because I did. You have no idea what it’s like to live for centuries, having your heart broken over and over again. You have no idea what it’s like to lose every single person you love, to have them stripped from you. Wonder why I lie? Because no one ever listens to me, even after I tell them what happened to the others. So, Shannon, I do care about you, or else I wouldn’t tell you shit.”

Mimi’s sight cleared a little, the red tinge faded, but she had not seen Shannon’s reaction until that moment. She had not seen the fear and the pain that she had somehow pushed inside her. Shannon sat motionless, eyes wide open. She appeared unable to blink, but tears were pouring down her cheeks. An open faucet.

Then her face came back to life again. She blinked and her cheeks twitched. Shannon’s whole body shivered as she buckled from the inside. She was a building, collapsing under its own weight, unable to stop falling.

Mimi reached out to catch her, but missed. Luckily, she fell on the bed.

What had Mimi done to her? Was she able to push her thoughts onto Shannon? Did she somehow… scream into her mind? A sense of panic took her as she examined the ruins and wreckage of the woman she loved. Sharp sobs punctuated the space, deep rasping breaths and gasps for air. Shannon did not seem to be able to speak and Mimi walked closer to her, hesitantly putting a hand on her shoulder.

“Shannon… I…”

Shannon turned over, just enough to look in Mimi’s brown eyes. “Did… How… What did you…”

It was all that Shannon could utter.

Mimi felt the anger rise in her again. Shannon had made her do this. It was Shannon’s fault and if she didn’t get out right that moment, if she didn’t get away from her, she would hurt her again. She didn’t understand how, but she knew it on some instinctive level.

Her anger was a pulsar, a radical sun, heavy and dense and full of heat and fire. She felt it radiating from her body, she felt almost a desire to scream at Shannon again, to go back to the red. That redness was almost hungry, and now that she had let it see the light of day, it wanted more.

Mimi turned and fled the space. She hurried toward the long metal pipe at the entrance. She didn’t know where she was going, but she needed out, needed away.

Why was it they never understood? They always thought she was holding out on them. Didn’t they understand that she had loved them all? She watched them all leave, or be taken to the Runnercore or… She swallowed hard. She couldn’t let herself think of Daniel. Couldn’t think of what he had become. She didn’t dare turn her mind that direction.

The red had faded with each footstep. She felt herself cooling. The tectonics of her inner life had settled, for now.

Why did she keep doing it? Why did she keep sneaking into the alcove? Why did she keep extending her years? Most of all, why did she keep taking new lovers? Because she could? Because she needed to fill some emptiness in her? There was some reason, she reached for it, but it seemed impossible to grab hold of.

She heard footsteps behind her, felt the gentle press of Shannon’s mind come closer, like an invisible tide gradually rushing in. She did not turn to meet her.

Shannon had come. After what Mimi had done to her, of which she still wasn’t sure, Shannon had still come after her.

Her voice was soft and hesitant. “What happened to Daniel?” Shannon waited a moment for a response. “Mimi, please. Tell me. Sometimes it helps if you talk about it. It helped me… no, it saved me to tell you about Tanya. I don’t think I could have gone on without telling you. Just tell me. I love you too, you know. I didn’t say it earlier, but I do.”

Mimi still didn’t turn. She kept herself cold, afraid of the return of that redness. “Me. I happened to him.” Her voice was cold and quavering. She barely held her tears, her tears cried for freedom. She headed for the surface, breaking for a run, and did not stop until she saw that Shannon wasn’t behind her anymore.

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Mimi of the Nowhere: Chapter 1 The Fishing Hole

I am excited to finally reveal the first chapter of my forthcoming book, Mimi of the Nowhere. The official release date of this book is May 17th, 2018.

Mimi Chapter 1

But first a brief synopsis:

Life on the street is hard. Drug dealers, thieves, and even the security officers of the giant walking city of Manhatsten are up to no good. But somehow, Mimi’s done it for centuries. Of course, it helps that she is able to peak into other people’s minds and avoid trouble most of the time. Unfortunately, that same talent is about to get her into a whole other world of trouble. One that she never even knew existed.

Enjoy Chapter 1!

Chapter 1

The Fishing Hole

The sharpened end of the broomstick plunged down below the waterline with a plunk.

“It’s hard to believe there’s any fish down here,” said Shannon.

“Best way to manage the algae,” Mimi said with a grunt. She pulled up the broomstick, free of fish, dripping water.

“Really? But I thought they wanted the algae to bloom for the biorecycler.”

Mimi’s eyes danced over the surface of the water, tracing the shadow of a fish just visible in the dim underground light.

“Algae grows better with the fish.”

“Why’s that?”

The broomstick handle brushed the surface of the water, roaming back and forth. Then, she thrusted quick and sharp. When she pulled out her makeshift spear, a fish flopped back and forth, gasping for freedom. Mimi swung the end up to keep the fish from sliding off.

She shrugged. “Hell if I know. Something about ecology or some nonsense.”

Mimi knew. She knew a lot of things she shouldn’t know. She had skimmed the knowledge from a sanitation worker, one who managed the algae pools.

“What’s ‘ecology’?”

Mimi shrugged. She shifted the broom from one hand to the other and brushed her long black hair out of her eyes. “It’s not important. We best get out of here, maintenance is coming.”

“How do you know that?” asked Shannon. “How do you always know stuff like that?”

“They usually come around this time. Come on, we have dinner. Let’s go cook it.” She was lying. There was no set schedule down here. The only time someone showed up was when there was a problem.

They walked away from the stream, moving up the long tunnel and toward the main pond. It was hard to call it a pond, because it was larger than Central Park and it branched out in streams to several other parts of the excavated piece of earth on which the great walking city of Manhasten rested.

“You can really feel the legs moving down here, can’t you?”

“Every step. Gotta be careful, takes a while to get your sea legs.”

“Sea legs?”

Mimi shrugged. “Nevermind.” She liked Shannon, but she asked too many questions. Mimi didn’t like questions. When you were homeless in a giant walking city, questions could get you killed. Yet, she always seemed to pick the ones who asked a lot of questions. Where were all her previous partners? She didn’t like to think about it.

She glanced up at Shannon’s face; she was pale and skinny, almost the exact opposite of the last woman she had dated. Her soft brown eyes caught Mimi staring at her. Her round face and blonde hair were lovely in the dim light of the underground.

“What?”

“Nothing, you just look beautiful today.”

Shannon smiled and her face flushed a little. She reached out and grabbed Mimi’s hand. Mimi never failed to notice how much bigger Shannon’s hand was. Of course, Shannon was of a normal size, while Mimi was tiny.

“I’m glad you asked me to come down here and see this place. I didn’t even know it existed.”

Mimi said, “Only a few people outside of the sanitation workers do.”

They reached the edge of the pond and Mimi looked over it. It was quiet. Only the sounds of the water lapping against the edge of the land was prominent, interspersed with slim moments of the sound of the machinery pumping water in and out of the massive reservoir.

Shannon moved closed to her. She could feel her body pressed up against hers. It was soft and warm. Mimi took a slow breath, enjoying the feeling. She tucked her head into Shannon’s chest and took a moment to listen to her heart and linger in her scent.

Shannon said, “It’s kind of a turn-on being down here…all hidden and forbidden, I mean.”

Mimi smiled and looked up into her face. “Yes, but as I said, someone is coming.” She leaned in and kissed Shannon for a moment, then took her hand and led her further along the shoreline, back to the entrance where they had come.

It had been a long time since Mimi had felt close to someone. The last time had been several decades before. Over the centuries, she brought several partners down here. It was one of her favorite places in the whole city. It was almost always safe from the security patrols and the drug dealers in the lowers. There wasn’t a lot of room to explore on the streets of Manhastan, but down here…down here was nowhere. Down here was her nowhere.

The garbled thoughts of the maintenance workers were clarifying. It meant they were getting closer. The clearer she could hear thoughts, the closer someone was. At a few dozen yards’ distance, she could make out everything that was on the surface of a person’s mind, assuming there was only a few of people around. More than a few people and things got jumbled.

It was the other reason she liked being down here; she had quiet inside and out.

Suddenly, the two minds focused. They were moving quickly. She couldn’t understand why. Her heart raced, they would be on top of them at any moment.

“Shit, they’re coming now.” Mimi grabbed Shannon by the shoulder and pulled her behind a giant metal tube, one of many scattered around the perimeter of the pond. She could feel and hear a low hum coming from the tube.

“How do you know–”

Mimi put her hand over Shannon’s mouth. “Shh. If they hear us, we’re in deep shit.”

Mimi felt Shannon’s body relax for a moment. Then, as the elevator door across the pond spilled light out onto the choppy water and two sanitation workers stepped out, she felt Shannon’s body tense again. They were still more than a kilometer away, but if they had been out in the open, it would have been obvious.

The elevator. Of course. That was the reason for the sudden movement. Mimi should have known better.  But why was she reading them as if they were much closer? There was no reason she should be able to hear them so clearly from this distance.

Mimi glanced at her companion and realized that she had let herself relax a little too much. It was stupid. She should have been paying more attention, even if she was getting an unusually strong read.

Mimi pulled Shannon a little closer. Shannon reached back and gave her bicep a squeeze. It occurred to Mimi that she found a deep sense of joy, feeling Shannon close. It was too late. She was falling hard. That was dangerous.

Mimi whispered in Shannon’s ear, “Stay still.  We have to wait ‘til they pass. We can’t make a sound. You know what happened to Tanya, right?”

Without turning, Shannon tensed. She nodded her head.

“Let’s move a little further back against this wall. I doubt they’ll come this way. They’re here to inspect one of the lines on the other side.”

Shannon squirmed a little and turned her head. Her hoarse whisper was barely audible. “How do you know all this shit, Mimi?”

Mimi shrugged. She wasn’t about to tell Shannon how she knew it, or how she knew anything else. She was falling in love with Shannon, realized that she might even spend the rest of Shannon’s life with her, short as that may end up being, but there was no one she could ever trust with her secret, not again. It would never be like it was with Daniel. His was a miserable lesson.

Yet, she was making it obvious that she had secrets. She frowned to herself. All day she had been hinting about knowing information she shouldn’t. It occurred to her that maybe, on some level, she wanted someone to know. Maybe she was tired of being alone, maybe she missed waking up next to someone, trusting someone with everything. Lying was tiresome.

The two workers’ laughs echoed off the massive chamber. They made no effort to be quiet, and just as they got within a few hundred meters, they stopped. Their thoughts, loud and clear, disappeared. The sudden silence unnerved Mimi.

She reached out. More silence. She pushed a little harder, thinking of them. A bright red light and a powerful ringing in her ears hit her like a physical blow. She shuddered. Her body spasmed.

Shannon turned towards her. “Mimi?”

Mimi released her grip and stepped back, shaking her head and putting her finger to her lips. Shannon understood and turned back toward the workers.

When they moved again, they did so in her direction. Mimi frowned. Why had they changed direction?

Minutes passed. No sign of their minds. No intentions. Just silence and hints of footsteps and murmurs.

Mimi felt her heart beat harder. Sweat gathered on her forehead and she was having trouble breathing. She tried to will their thoughts back again, and that same red light and deafening ringing returned. She needed to know what these two were doing. Uncertainty was death in this world. She had watched through the centuries as so many of her friends and loved ones had been taken by the security forces and sentenced to a fate worse than death.

Only a hundred meters away now, the voices focused from the frame of echoes and sharpened in the space. “I don’t know, Frank, I swore I saw something over this direction.”

“Zelda, you kidding me with this shit? Ain’t no one even knows about this place.”

“I didn’t say it was a person, maybe it’s a busted pipe or something.”

“It’s almost quitting time.”

The woman stopped and faced the man. The woman was wire-thin, and the man had a large, round belly that almost intruded in the conversation.

“Frank, you know damn well if there is a major issue, we’re gonna be down here for weeks cleaning up the mess.”

“So, let’s report we heard some strange noises in the pipes and send someone else down to investigate,” said the man.

Mimi ground her teeth. No minds, only voices. That vacant silence felt as if someone had scooped something essential out of her. So far as she could remember, this had never happened before, not since the voices began. It could mean the end for her and Shannon. Was her future in the Runnercore? The remainder of their lives as prisoners out in the barren wasteland that the city traversed, running errands for a society that viewed them as disposable? Or perhaps they would die a brutal death at the hands of another city’s runners? But then, that was if they were lucky; they could spend centuries in semi-stasis, waiting in storage to be activated.

“It doesn’t hurt to just check it out, Frank. Besides, wouldn’t kill you to work off that gut some.”

There was a pause between the two. The man rubbed his stomach. “What, this old thing? Come on, Zelda, you know I’ve been carefully cultivating this thing for the last twenty years. Why you gotta go and try and go and get me some exercise?” The man laughed at his own joke. It was a deep, booming laugh that bounced off the high walls of the cavern. It did nothing for Mimi’s nerves.

Shannon started to squirm again and Mimi gripped her a bit more firmly. She tried to make it a loving, comforting grip, but when she looked down at Shannon’s right wrist, she saw that she was white-knuckled. Shannon’s hand was reddening. She relaxed her grip.

Shannon leaned back and whispered, “What’s wrong, I can feel you shaking.”

Mimi was shaking. Her whole body was betraying her with ripples of gooseflesh. Still, there was mental silence. It was a kind of fog that had climbed its way into her ears.

“Shhhh.”

The woman turned their direction. “Did you hear that?” Her words were crystal-clear now. She was walking directly toward them.

Mimi cursed under her breath. Leaning forward as quietly as she could, she whispered into Shannon’s ear, “Get ready to run when I say so.”

Shannon tensed under her. She, too, shook.

Why had everything gone silent? It made no sense, unless maybe she was just getting old? Maybe her bizarre skill set withered away with age like anything else? But that made little sense. The regeneration alcove she semi-frequently snuck into rejuvenated all of her cells. Her mental capabilities should have been renewed in the process as well.

The woman was only a few dozen meters away now.

“Zelda, you’re killing me. Let’s just finish the job we came down for.” He was pleading with her. Mimi noted a sense of desperation in his voice. Something about that gave her a renewed sense of hope.

Zelda stopped and turned away. Mimi used that moment to pull Shannon all the way back behind the pipe so that she couldn’t see the woman, and the woman couldn’t see her.

“I’m telling you, Frank, there’s something over there. I’d swear it.”

“Bet your next paycheck?”

There was silence for a moment.

“Well… Nah.”

“If you ain’t gonna put your money where your mouth is, then let’s get back to work. The wife’s waiting, you know. And she doesn’t like it when I’m late all the time, especially when she knows I came down here with you.”

There it was. That was why he was pleading.

“Is she still on you about that shit, Frank?”

“Come on, you know some people, once they get an idea, it rubs at them ‘til they’re raw. She ain’t never gonna let it go.”

“Jesus Frank, it was one kiss twenty years ago, and I was drunk.”

“Don’t matter.”

There was silence again for a moment. It was a horrible silence. Mimi hated it. She had never thought she could hate silence so much.

“Alright fine. You win. Let’s get back to it.”

Mimi felt all the pressure inside of her release at once. The woman’s footsteps sounded as if they were walking away, but it was hard to tell.

Then, all at once, their thoughts flooded her mind again. She didn’t know what had turned them back on, but she was grateful. The pair was moving away; they would address a reported blockage on the other side of the pond and suggest that maybe something else was wrong in the area Mimi was hiding. Mimi had never felt so relieved in her life.

She stuck out her head from her cover and watched and waited a few minutes more. She probed the area for any other minds and when she sensed none, she said, “Come on, all clear.”

There were only two ways out of the pond: the elevator and the stairs. No sanitation worker in their right mind would use the stairs, it was 102 levels from the lowest sub-basement to the algae pools. Shannon had moaned the entire way down the stairs about how difficult it would be to come back up. She had complained that her legs were already jelly from going down 102 flights, and Mimi expected her to moan the whole way up. But as they approached the metal-grated stairs, still keeping their eyes on the ever-more-distant workers, Shannon was silent. They began their ascent.

Mimi turned and looked at her face; it was ghost-pale. Mimi didn’t have to skim her mind to know what was wrong. She shouldn’t have mentioned Tanya. She wanted her to take the threat seriously, but she didn’t want to scare the living shit out of her, either. She imagined that mentioning Tanya probably deepened Shannon’s terror as that woman had approached.

Mimi grabbed Shannon’s hand and faced her. She tilted her head up and kissed her deeply. Mimi pulled away and stared right into Shannon’s eyes.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to mention it.”

Shannon looked down at the floor. “It’s okay… I just… I still can’t believe she’s gone.”

“She’s not gone. She’s in the Runnercore.”

“She’s dead.”

“No, she’s not.”

Shannon twirled her hair and chewed on her lip.

“You know what they say about women in the Runnercore.”

“Weak women, Shannon. Tanya was bigger and stronger than most women.”

“Enough to move in those metal suits? Can you say for certain she’s alive?” Shannon was pleading.

Mimi said nothing. She had tried to find out. She had even snuck down to the docks several nights in a row to skim someone. The inspectors weren’t helpful, there were just too many Runners to think about and inspectors didn’t know anyone’s names. Once you became a runner, you were just a number, a designation. Unless she could find out what Tanya’s designation had become, there was no use.  She had tried to probe the recycled runners but they were nothing but empty hard drives. Too empty, like trying to read a brick.

“They augment their muscles, you know.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean they inject them with some kind of hormone or chemical or something. It makes them stronger.”

Shannon’s eyes squinted, “How do you know that?”

“The same way I know everything else. I listen. If you would do as I tell you when we are out scavenging, you would know just as much as me.”

It was a lie. Shannon couldn’t skim minds. She wasn’t entirely sure if anyone else in the city could, either. As far as she knew, she was all alone. It almost made her laugh when she thought about it. What a great gift to be wasted on a homeless woman. Yet, something had happened this afternoon. Something that made her question if she was alone. Why the red light and the tone? Could someone out there be blocking her?

“Listen, you’re just going to have to trust me. Tanya’s okay. One of these days, we’ll bust her out.”

Shannon smiled, the corners of her mouth creeping to their highest altitude. She choked back a laugh. Mimi loved it when she did that.

“Oh right, two bag ladies are going to bust down into the runner docks to liberate another bag lady. Sounds like something from the vidscreens.” Her smile melted. “Sometimes having hope is foolish, isn’t it?”

Mimi squeezed her hand, “Crazier things have happened.”

“Really? When?”

“Um, we are in what was once bedrock at the base of a giant walking city, aren’t we? I think that qualifies as a crazy miracle. Whoever thought up this idea to deal with climate change had to sound like a total nut job, but they did it, didn’t they? They pulled it off, and not just once.”

“I guess so.” Shannon’s voice sounded soft and resigned. “Do you know how many cities are still out there?”

“I don’t know. Couldn’t be more than a dozen left.”

“You think Manhasten will be around for a while?”

“Hell if I know.” She nodded her head toward the stairs, “Come on. I’ll race you to the top.”

“You’re joking, right? I mean, you’re really joking?”

“Nope.” And Mimi ran up the stairs, taking two at a time.

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